Just the Facts
Clay Sheffield Pottery’s Stoneware T6B and Elaine’s Cone 6 Porcelain
Primary forming method wheel throwing with handbuilding
Primary firing temperature cone 6 oxidation
Favorite surface treatment minimalist form and decoration for functional kitchenware; carved porcelain and patterns with glossy, semi-transparent glazes for cremation urns
Favorite tools red Mudtools rib
Studio playlist Spotify and podcasts (How I Built This, Clear and Vivid, Good Life Project, Akimbo, Ted Radio Hour, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me)
Wishlist separate glaze room for spray booth
When I first set my eyes on the property and house I have been calling home for the past 25 years, I saw great potential. The old New England farmhouse, built in 1892, with an attached barn, was a dream come true. It just needed a lot of tender loving care . . . lots and lots of it.
The old barn, which is now my studio, was a wreck. The area that housed the chickens needed to be torn down. The main section that housed the tractor and falling down hay lofts was filled with bat guano and bats that had passed on long ago. After extensive cleanup and renovations in 2001, this main portion of the barn was transformed into a gorgeous, light-filled pottery studio. The lower section is still used as a barn for our flock of 16 chickens, greenhouse, and garden tools.
I am located just two miles from the town center of Greenfield, Massachusetts. It is an old mill town, typical of many old New England towns. The surrounding landscape of farms, gentle hills, and beautiful rivers is what drew me to this area. The proximity of the five college region of Northampton and Amherst keeps the area a cultural hotspot. I love the fact that this corner of western Massachusetts is both rural and cultural.
As my pottery business has grown over the years, I have expanded my studio twice. In 2010, a separate addition was built to house my two kilns, shelving, and glaze-mixing space. Then in 2017, the two upper lofts were joined, and a stairway was put in. Carrying pottery for storage up and down the loft ladders became a safety issue for me, which needed to be remedied. Changing this upper floor helped a great deal, creating much needed space. This space is now used for packing/shipping, storage of pottery, an office space, and a photography studio. I even have two storage closets, which is a big deal in a dusty pottery studio! The total workspace is about 700 square feet.
I am very happy and blessed to have such a beautiful studio. My potter’s wheel is set in front of a large, west-facing window that looks over the field, gardens, and woods. Over the course of the seasons, I see different shades of green, big sky, and white winter landscape. All affect the colors and quiet nature of my pottery.
In 2017, we installed solar panels on our house/studio. Massachusetts was offering significant incentives and rebates for solar and other energy-efficient products. At this time, I also purchased an efficient electric mini split for heat/air conditioning. The solar panels supply nearly 50% of our electricity to the home and studio. Having the solar and mini split helps to ease my conscience, even if it’s only lowering my carbon footprint by a small percentage. I also try to conserve energy by riding my bike as much as possible. Living only two miles from town, I grocery shop and deliver shipments via bike to the post office if the boxes can fit in my panniers. In the studio, I recycle all of my clay, and use energy-saving lightbulbs.
Back in 2008, I was really feeling badly about all the electricity I was using with the kilns. At this time, I was just three years into my cremation urn business. I thought, “why am I making pots that last forever that are just going to be put in the ground?” This inspired me to make biodegradable urns. I researched fiber clay to see if it would work. I experimented for months, testing proportions of clay and fiber for durability. I wanted the urn to degrade in water rather quickly for burial at sea, and at the same time, I wanted it to withstand being shipped halfway across the world. After two years of experimentation, I began selling biodegradable urns in 2010.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I have been making pottery since I was a senior in high school. I graduated from Alfred University with a BFA in ceramics and a minor in art education in 1985. I taught high-school art for five years, worked as a farmer for a few years, and then had two children. I have been making a living as a full-time potter since 2002. At that point, my two sons were in school full time and I had at least five hours a day in the studio. I also worked as a ceramics instructor three nights a week. Gradually, I have taught less and less as the years go by and as my business continues to grow. Currently, I teach out of my studio two nights a week, scheduling three ten-week sessions per year. I also give two to five workshops a year at clay centers and my studio.
I work in the studio 60-plus hours per week. This includes managing my website and Etsy shops, marketing via social media, responding to emails, packing and shipping work, managing kiln maintenance, doing photography, and making videos. My spouse helps with some clay recycling and delivers most of my packages on her way to work. I have had apprentices in the past, but currently feel that I need my space to myself. I feel that all the different aspects of running a pottery business create variety, which gives my body time to rest from the actual physicality of making and glazing pots. I have learned over the years to do all the repetitive actions in moderation if I want to keep my body working.
The other ways my body and mind stay in shape for pottery is to spend the first two hours of my day doing yoga, lifting weights, and hiking with my two dogs. I have learned from my earlier years as an athlete that you don’t just go out and play the tennis match—you train for it and get your body in shape so you don’t pull a muscle. Making pottery full time is a physical endeavor that requires a lot of strength and endurance. In the past three years (when my sons went off to college), I have been able to make space in my day for this daily routine of taking care of my body/mind/spirit.
My spouse provides the health insurance, which is a great benefit for our family. She works evenings as a maternity nurse and spends lots of time taking care of our gardens, chickens, and bees. The small farm can be a full-time job in itself. I also spend most of my free time working on the land, especially in the vegetable garden and with the chickens. I love the daily routine of chicken chores. It starts my day off with a smile watching the chicken antics that unfold. We like to call it chicken TV.
Most of my work is sold online. Craft fairs became a thing of the past for me as soon as the Internet started taking off. My first website was launched in 2004 and I started blogging early on, writing quite frequently and following other potters who blogged. It was our early form of social media. In 2010, I opened my first Etsy shop called FoodieCeramics, and in 2012, I started LuciaUrns for my cremation urn business. My LuciaUrns Etsy shop does quite well for me. The FoodieCeramics Etsy shop has fallen off my radar as I now sell from my LucyFagella.com website.
In 2017, I started a second website just for my cremation urn business (LuciaUrns.com), because I found it odd to sell cremation urns and kitchen pottery from the same website. It was a good decision to create a separate website for urns, as it is truly centered around helping families through a difficult time. I still maintain my LuciaUrns Etsy shop, too. I have found that it is important to have these two avenues to sell my urns, as they serve different audiences. The older generation would rather purchase from a website when buying an urn. The younger generation embraces Etsy and looks there for urns.
I am quite active on Instagram and have found a great pottery community there. I also find inspiration there, and sometimes sell a few things. I only use Facebook for business. Pinterest is another place I go to for inspiration, and I can also get a few sales from it here and there. It’s one of those places that I should use more for marketing, but there is only so much time in a day.
Photography and video are very important aspects of my social-media marketing and website sales. I want viewers to be able to get a feel for how the pottery is made via process shots and video. I also want to give the viewer various situational backgrounds, with different lighting, angles, and moods, which help a potential buyer to imagine pieces in their home. A bonus for me is that it helps me to see my work with different eyes—through the lens and a flat, 2D computer screen. I can pick up a different kind of detail, like being able to see negative space more clearly, as well as spot a weak handle or a wimpy spout on a pitcher. Using photography so regularly these past couple of years has allowed me to strengthen the composition of my forms. I treat my photography as part of the process of pottery making—it’s just a part of my day. The camera is always by my side, ready to go when the light is just right to capture what was made that day.
Most Important Lesson
The most important lessons I have learned from my experience as a full-time potter is to live within my means. I don’t make any purchases until I have saved the money for them, whether it be a new potter’s wheel, kiln, or a studio renovation. I also feel that if you can have some type of partnership—a shared studio, a business partner, or a spouse—these all make the load a little lighter.