Jennifer is the creative force behind JD Wolfe Pottery, a pottery studio in Wisconsin, that specializes in modern wheel thrown pottery for everyday use.
Please Introduce Yourself:
Hi! I have been a professional potter for about 23 years and I started my career working at Rockdale Union Stoneware as a production potter. The training that the pottery provided are lessons in running a clay business that I still use today.
I started my own studio with two other potters at the age of 25; both moved on to do other things eventually. One of the potters is half of Two Potters in Vermont.
The space was a cool old building on Main Street in Stoughton, WI that was formerly a grocery store. It had a gallery up front with cream city brick walls and the whole space was over 2000 sq ft. I invested $700 in a new Pacifica wheel that I still use and with shared kilns and a lot of drive, I was off and running! I was in that space for 15 years.
After starting a family, I realized I needed to change how I run my business. I switched my focus to online sales and started working in a home studio so I could be available for my family whenever they needed me. While I really miss that old studio/gallery, moving online was a great move for my business.
I read that you have a degree in art from the University of Wisconsin. Did you major in ceramics and/or how did you start working with clay as a primary medium?
When I first went to college, I was a little unsure what I wanted to focus on. I really wanted to be an artist, but could I make a living? A new friend in a drawing class I was taking (which I am not very good at!), was always talking about his ceramics class and how much fun he was having. I decided to try ceramics the next semester and the moment I sat at the wheel, I knew I had found my passion. I switched my major to art, with ceramics as my focus. Also, I took a lot of metal and photography classes.
I’ve “known” you since about 2007/2008 when I joined the Etsy Mud Team and I believe that you were already active in the group. You had a leadership role if I remember correctly. Are you still a member and if so what does it mean to you to be involved in a virtual pottery focused group?
Yes, we have known each other online for a long time! I was a founding member of the Etsy Mud Team, which started in 2007. You joined not too long after we started. I did not really have a leadership role until a few years later. Currently, I am a volunteer captain of the team, but the team is really reliant on its many dedicated volunteers who spend time answering questions, promoting the team on social media, collaborating and mentoring each other on how to run their pottery businesses.
I give direction as needed but it is the volunteers that make it all happen. It is really important to have some sort of online community to learn from and the Etsy Mud Team is unique in that we not only mentor but promote team members as well. There is a lot we can learn together as a group that can translate to each of our small businesses.
How do you feel about Etsy’s shift over time from offering purely handmade crafts to opening the marketplace up to a wider range of goods including mass produced items?
This is a funny question for me, because I know that people are really passionate about their answer to this question. I have never seen Etsy as a “pure” handmade marketplace.
There was a different vibe when the site was smaller when I joined in 2006. The issue people have with manufacturing help is really strange to me when, from the beginning, people could use commercially made supplies and assemble them, sometimes very simply, into a “handmade” object. I always believed Etsy to be a tremendous marketplace, but it never did really fit with my definition of handmade. So in short, I don’t have a problem with people getting manufacturing help, whether it is in purchasing manufactured supplies at the front end of their creative adventure or if a person creatively designs a product and has a manufacturer produce it for them in the end. To me there is not much difference.
My own work is handmade from raw materials, there is no question about that, but I have no problem sharing space with all types of designers as long as there is full disclosure of the process. That is my one caveat.
Please be honest about your business model, whether you are buying commercial supplies or having someone manufacture your designs. Be clear about who you are. Ultimately, I see myself as a designer first and a maker second. My business has only grown, even while sharing space with all types of small creative businesses.
You’ve maintained a fairly consistent style over time, but have refined and expanded what you make to the point that you now work with major brands such as Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, terrain and J.Crew. How have you found and cultivated these relationships?
I have to say, they have found me! I feel Etsy has been a big part of that. What I do with my business is know my audience, try to stay visible, be active in different online creative communities, be authentic in what I produce and try to develop my own style, strive to be the best at what I do (an unreachable goal, but the drive is there), and really stay personally connected to my designs. I know that might not make sense to everyone, but it is about putting yourself into your work and I feel that really makes your designs stand out.
Photos of your work often include food, beverages or plant material. They’re quite beautiful and tell a fuller story of your work. Can you speak to your connection to the culinary world?
My passion for food started with my family. My grandmother was a great entertainer, my mother often says she could teach Martha Stewart a thing or two, and my mother and aunt are both wonderful cooks and entertainers themselves, so a lot of my memories are of our lavish family gatherings. Additionally, my adorable aunt has also taken photographs of every family meal since I can remember, way before posting photos of food online became a thing!
I have always been interested in food, and combining that with pottery is just a natural progression. Turns out, I married my lifelong friend, Ken Wolfe, who is also a chef and in the food production business. We run Howling Wolf BBQ together and are always playing around with different recipes and plating them on my newest ceramic designs. We are both avid gardeners, a passion I developed from my father, so both our personal and business life revolve around food in all aspects!
Who or what inspires you?
I gain inspiration from everyone I meet. I think people are fascinating! We are all on such interesting paths. My mom and my aunt would be my solid bedrock of inspiration though. I love them both so much. I learned about art and design from both of them.
Overall, I live and breath being an artist. I take it all in, and all of my experiences affect my work. It’s inevitable.
What do you do for fun outside of pottery?
Fun outside of pottery? Ha. So much of my life revolves around clay, but I love to garden with my husband, we sneak off when we can to forage mushrooms and other wild edibles, I love visiting my mother in her cozy home, trips to Los Angeles to visit my husband’s family, hiking and any outdoor activity. Vintage design is also a passion of mine, I love to search for unique pieces.
Where can people find you?
Madison, WI – www.hatcharthouse.com
Milwaukee, WI – www.thewaxwing.com
Santa Fe, NM – www.okeeffemuseum.org – this being my very favorite commission of all time, since I consider Georgia O’Keeffe an influence in my work.
Occasionally my work is available through national retailers. You can currently find my hearts at www.shopterrain.com
Every summer from April through November you can find me at the capital square in Madison, WI during the Dane County Farmers Market hours. Looking forward to my Saturdays in the sunshine!
I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays” which can be found when searching the Ceramicscapes Blog using the category search function on the right hand sidebar. Interested in being featured? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.