Since an early age, clay has held a special place in my heart and served as an integral symbol of my personal narrative. In the 1970s my parents, Lynn and Geoff Seng were potters in Pinehurst, North Carolina. When I was three years old, they divorced and due to the circumstances, I only knew my father through using his pots in our house. When I entered high school I took the pottery and sculpture class offered and immediately felt connected to my parents’ past, especially my father’s. It was a very touching thing to be working with clay as he had done.
Growing up in North Carolina only reinforced the inherent value placed in ceramics and the craft world as a whole. My mother ran a gallery and worked as a jeweler in Asheville, North Carolina. When I was young, my mom would take me to the Southern Highland Craft Guild shows where I would buy handmade doll clothes, toys, and even pottery. I remember how proud I was of those well-made objects. Looking back, my North Carolina roots played a crucial role in my love for craft and enabled me to see the rich effect it can have on individuals and society.
As my passion for ceramics grew in college, I declared a BFA in Studio Art instead of Art Education, which I had initially leaned toward. I attended several colleges in North Carolina before finding the right fit under the instruction of Megan Wolfe at University of North Carolina Asheville, a small liberal arts school in my hometown. It was a great time to experiment with different types of firing processes and develop an idea of which temperature and method I wanted to focus on. My art instructors helped reinforce and strengthen my direction in clay. I was exposed to a wealth of visiting artists and an opportunity for dialog. Also, I was lucky to have some very motivated peers who taught me that a strong work ethic is essential to making the pieces that you desire.
After my sophomore year I took a year off to work for potter David Voorhees of Flat Rock, North Carolina. For me this experience was essential. It gave me motivation and skills that I wouldn’t necessarily get from a school setting. I remember that one of the first days I started working he had me trim a shelf of his porcelain vases. My thoughts were, “I can’t believe he trusts me, I have never really trimmed before!” Over the year that I assisted in his studio I learned how a production studio runs from the making, glazing, firing, and selling of work. Much of what I absorbed is what I now practice in my own studio today.
I continued to work for artists throughout school and even afterward, gaining a different perspective from each. They all were so gracious with their time and energy. Many of them sold retail, wholesale, or a mixture of both. I have modeled my business to be one that is reliant on both retail and wholesale, finding that it is a good balance. They seem to work together to help promote one another. I do best when I can meet my customer face to face and tell them about my work. Connecting to my audience in a direct way fulfills something genuine inside of me.
Over the past eight years I have attended multiple wholesale trade shows and found that I have little control over which galleries purchase my work. I have developed good relationships with some key craft galleries that keep reordering (thankfully) while there are some that have only ordered once. The fit has to be just right. To keep things fresh, some years I lean heavy on retail when my wholesale line needs a rest.
A typical workday begins with throwing, trimming, or glazing. Making work for an upcoming show, filling existing orders, or shipping usually fill my day. Currently, I have a studio intern (Leah Combs) who helps with tasks such as making glaze, wedging, watching kids, gardening, and setting up at shows, to list a few. At lunch I usually make time to return emails, etc. These days, with two little kids, my workdays are three full days a week while they are in daycare. When I need to, I work in the early hours of the morning or at night. I prefer to work late at night, but I always pay for it the next day. On the days I have the kids I try to attend a YMCA yoga class or walk to keep my back from acting up. It is nice to have these days that are more active and social to counter the quiet, non-social studio days.
I chose to have my studio at home, which has been a good decision for our family. I got a lot of practice setting up a studio in three different states while my husband, Hunter Stamps, was pursuing his MFA in ceramics and beginning his teaching career. Although challenging, I feel fortunate to have had each experience so that I was prepared when we moved to Kentucky to start right back up. Right away I connected to our Arts Council, joined the local potters’ club, applied to all the craft guilds in our region and located the major shows within a five-hour driving distance.
I think it is so important to work under someone in the field. This will allow you more time to learn the mechanics and daily routine of a potter firsthand. Branch out and work in many studio situations to pick up different ways of working. Find the structure that works for you. Give yourself time and space to develop whether that is in an academic setting, residency, or private studio. Place yourself around supportive peers and work hard toward your goals. Connect with other artists and arts organizations and remember that they are there to help you. Take advantage of all the free resources within your grasp. Make sure you stop and have a little fun along the way!