Meet Lisa and Alex LaPella of LaPella Pottery

Alex and Lisa LaPella are a husband and wife team and the creative forces behind LaPella Pottery located in Unicoi, TN. Collaboratively, they create many one of a kind pieces and specialize in functional stoneware, barware, and wedding registries.

LaPella Pottery - Handmade Functional Stoneware
LaPella Pottery – Handmade Functional Stoneware

Please Introduce Yourself:

Hello! We are Alex & Lisa LaPella, the potters behind LaPella Pottery. We met just as Lisa was finishing her BFA in ceramics (Alex already had his), almost 20 years ago. We’ve been making pots all along, but only took the plunge into full time studio pottery about 5 years ago.

LaPella Pottery - Snack Bowl in Gray and Red on White
LaPella Pottery – Snack Bowl in Gray and Red on White

I’m envious of how you two have managed to craft a successful creative business together. You are a pottery power couple with an incredible business sense and appear to be terrific parents to boot! What it is like to work with your spouse and how do you split your daily tasks?

Alex: Well, I suppose we are atypical. We have an easy relationship. We are rarely apart, rarely argue, and are always working together either as parents or as partners in business.     

Lisa: We’ve almost always worked together. The hardest time in our marriage was when we worked separately. It’s true we rarely argue – so much so that it is a recurring joke for Alex’s mom to ask weekly, “Have you had your first fight yet?” Ha ha! As for division of labors, we don’t have very rigid job descriptions.    

Alex: Except you do the computer stuff. I hate the computer stuff.    

Lisa: And you do the trimming. Because you love me. 

LaPella Pottery - Alex Working on Mugs for Mug Club for Black Abbey Brewing
LaPella Pottery – Alex Working on Mugs for Mug Club for Black Abbey Brewing

In addition to selling online via Etsy, you’ve developed quite a few wholesale accounts and relationships with local breweries. How did you go about making these connections?

Alex: Start drinking beer!   

Lisa: I suppose we were pretty lucky. The brewery connections began with serendipity. We happened to be set up next to a new brewery tent at a local street festival. It was clear they needed a little help getting set up, so we chatted and hit it off. Soon, we were making mugs and growlers for them. We found that the cross-promotional aspect of that relationship (Johnson City Brewing Company & LaPella Pottery) was very effective for both companies. Other breweries saw how we worked together and soon we had more clients. While we try to be proactive in seeking new clients, it is more often word of mouth or our presence on Etsy Wholesale that leads to new clients. 

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Growlers Made For Johnson City Brewing
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Growlers Made For Johnson City Brewing

We are both members of the private Facebook group, Clay Buddies. I check in once in awhile, but always notice (or maybe FB just alerts me via their algorithm) when you provide insight to people looking for technical or other help. You are a terrific resource and I see that you offer occasional classes in your home studio. Have you ever considered opening up a larger clay teaching facility? Why or why not? 

While we toyed with this idea, we both decided it would not suit our personalities. In short, we are selfish with our studio time. Rather than teaching longer classes, we are moving toward teaching weekend workshops instead. It allows us to travel and meet other potters without losing our regular studio workflow. 

LaPella Pottery - Stacks of Wheel Thrown Bowls
LaPella Pottery – Stacks of Wheel Thrown Bowls

I loved your feature in Pottery Making Illustrated, Sept/Oct Issue 2016. It motivated me to subscribe to PMI. Did you pitch your article to PMI, catch the editor’s attention or just get lucky? Do you plan to be a regular contributor?

 Lisa: We would love to contribute again! (Hint! Hint!)  The editor approached us and asked us to submit an article. I had always dreamed of  being published, so I was very excited to work with PMI. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe a talk I gave on Periscope led to the article.

I had given a talk on Periscope shortly before they contacted us called, “Referenced Work is the Strongest Work: What’s That Mean?!” The theme of the talk was that work that has a personal reference for us tends to be the strongest work.  For some, the reference is pots that come before, for others it is a particular time or place. I’m working on an essay of the same title since the talk was not recorded. 

Insta-Crafty Market in Tennessee
Insta-Crafty Market in Tennessee

I followed your journey to start a crafty handmade market in 2016 with anticipation which seems to have really taken off. What motivated you to develop and manage Insta-Crafty? 

Lisa: Honestly, I was kind of being a brat. I was angry that so many artists had lost their booth spaces at our local farmers market. Even though we did not lose our space, it felt very unfair and I wanted to give those locals a way to showcase their wares.

It started as a Friday night pop-up show alongside a weekly concert. Soon I had a website and was planning a large holiday market. I realized there was an untapped need in our area for a true indie craft show. If we want the public to buy handmade, we need to give them opportunities to experience and learn about indie art.    

Alex: I had no idea what she was up to. I thought she’d invite some friends to set up downtown and that would be it. When she showed me the website and application forms, I was pretty shocked.

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Spice Jar
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Spice Jar

What advice would you give someone who is interested in organizing an ongoing craft event like Insta-Crafty or even a one day pop up shop? 

Lisa : I would probably advise them to not do what I did. I tend to just jump in and hope I can swim. Mostly I’ve been pretty lucky. I suppose my best advice is to behave like a professional who knows what he/she is doing… even if you aren’t and you don’t.   

Alex: And don’t wait for someone else to do it because it probably won’t get done.

LaPella Pottery - Wheel thrown oval vase, altered, and hand painted with wildflower silhouettes
LaPella Pottery – Wheel thrown oval vase, altered, and hand painted with wildflower silhouettes

Who or what inspires you?

Alex:   All the things.  

Lisa: We are lucky to live in a really craft-rich community. We are within 30 miles of 100s of potters who are among the best in the nation. Living in Appalachia, just over the ridge from Penland, we are witness to a long arts and crafts tradition that is set in the most lovely environment.   

Alex: We love to visit galleries that feature really fine handmade furniture… we love art and architecture…. the mountains we live in… world travels… it all shows up in the work.

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Latte Mugs
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Latte Mugs

What do you do for fun outside of pottery? 

Lisa: There is life outside pottery?!  Just kidding! We are happiest out in the woods. Our family hikes, kayaks, paddle boards … we have a vintage camper that we take to the beach or down to the river. We love to take photos of all of our adventures, so watch our Instagram accounts! 

LaPella Pottery - Wheel Thrown Pitcher
LaPella Pottery – Wheel Thrown Pitcher

Where can people find you? 


Upcoming events:

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.

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