Meet Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

Introducing Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura, a Maryland based ceramic artist and teacher. Laura has been getting her hands muddy since she was fourteen years old in a Saturday clay class at the Corcoran School for the Arts in Washington, DC. She is well known for her highly textured and colorful pots that exude joyfulness.

Introducing Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

Meet Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura

I’m Laura Silberman and I call myself a clay artist. I create FUNctional ceramics for home and garden. Primarily, I use hand-building techniques embellished with lots of texture. Using a low fire clay and a bright color palette have helped me achieve a personal style that is often recognized by my customers and fans as a ClayByLaura creation. Sometimes I add mixed media elements to the pieces I make. People tell me my pieces are fun and make them happy! I’m glad to know the pleasure I get from making pottery translates to the finished work!

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Bird Houses
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Bird Houses

I read that you have been working with clay since you were 14 years old. Do you have a formal education in ceramics, or have you acquired your skills through community classes, workshops and by working by yourself?

My journey to full time clay artist began at a kid’s class at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC when I was 14. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Goucher College in 1978, I pursued a career in audio-visual production followed by a freelance career and full-time motherhood. During that time, I took a variety of clay classes and workshops.

I gained valuable technical knowledge from a variety of teachers along the way but I think regular practice and experimentation with my craft has also contributed to my success. My original home studio was outfitted with a used wheel and kiln in the 1990’s. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Studio
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Studio

Initially, the potter’s wheel was my clay workhorse as I exclusively threw pots on the wheel. I began to explore and enjoy hand-building techniques over the last ten years. It is now my primary method of clay making. My trusty Northstar slab roller is in constant use and has lasted more than 20 years with a few spare part repairs here and there.  I joke that my potter’s wheel has become ‘the treadmill’ of my studio. I won’t give it up, but it sits in the corner and is covered with various studio ‘stuff.’ 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Hand Building
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Hand Building

When did you realize that your clay hobby could become a business?

Over the last decade, I worked seriously to develop my own creative style. Prior to that, I had been selling my pieces at occasional open studio shows. When I helped found and run a co-op art gallery in Bluffton, SC, in 2008 sales of ClayByLaura started to take off. I began to participate in juried craft shows and developed a business website to further market myself and increase sales opportunities. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Craft Fair Booth
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Craft Fair Booth

Many potters start out selling their work on Etsy. I noticed that you are using Squarespace as both a selling platform and website. Why and how is it working out for you?

I have an ETSY account, but decided to focus website sales through my own Squarespace developed site. While I appreciate the fact that ETSY has the potential to draw customers from a wide net, I decided to consolidate ‘my brand’ through one platform.

I am able to publish my weekly studio blog post, track statistics, receive inquiries, and comments from potential customers all from one source. I really love Squarespace. It is very easy to navigate and update. If I ever have a question about my website, the tech crew has been very helpful in resolving any issue. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Close Up of Texture
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Close Up of Texture

Similarly, how do you market your work?

I sell and market my pieces in numerous ways. I write a weekly blog post about myself and what is percolating in the studio. It is published through my Squarespace website, posted on my Facebook page and mailed to a customer email list through MailChimp. I started it more than 3 years ago.

Pottery Making Info repeatedly mentions and rates my blog in their monthly review; they have awarded it as a top pottery blog the past two years in their annual review. In addition to the website, I sell through shops, galleries, pop up shops, occasional craft fairs and private home shows. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - The Maddux Welcome Posts
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – The Maddux Welcome Posts

I’m very interested in your public art project that you have been working on with a local school. This is an avenue that I would like to pursue. Did you put together a formal proposal or did the school contact you directly to work with them? Can you share your experience designing and executing the tile totems with the students?

I recently completed a public art project for a local private school. A friend of mine is in charge of fundraising for the school and she approached me about creating a tile project to beautify the front entry of the school.

We came up with the idea of having the children (pre-school – 2nd grade), their parents, and teachers decorate pre-made bisque tiles with underglaze. The 4 x 4 tiles were then used to decorate 3 wooden posts of varying heights at the entry of the school.

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Public Art and Fund Raising Project For School
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Public Art and Fund Raising Project For School

The opportunity to ‘paint’ the tiles was sold at a fundraising gala as a way to help raise money for the school. I provided the materials, guided the ‘painting’ activity, glazed and fired each tile. I also made some of the tiles with the school name and logo. Finally, I adhered the tiles to the planted wooden posts. This project is emblematic of projects and new ideas I tackle. “Can you make?” is a question I love to explore with customers. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Garden Bell Class
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Garden Bell Class

I notice that you also teach clay classes and just read about your “Garden Bell” class on your blog. Do you host your classes in your studio or at another location?

Over the years, I have taught classes and workshops to other clay enthusiasts sometimes at my own studio or other teaching venues. Most recently, I have been teaching quick project classes in tandem with a local shop in Frederick, Md. called The Muse. The owner, Whitney Bingham, hosts regular craft parties for customers featuring all kinds of art projects including jewelry, painting and fiber through her store.

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Garden Bell
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Garden Bell

The classes are held at the Frederick, Md. studio (near The Muse) of another local fiber artist, Margaret Hluch. With these particular classes, I create a bisque fired item that students decorate with acrylic paints. The textured surface on the clay responds beautifully to layering and wiping away a variety of paint colors.

These items are not meant to be used for food, so we have made several different garden items in the classes including a pot sticker, wind chimes and a garden bell. Buttons and beads are some times added to embellish the finished pieces. In a few weeks, I’ll lead a jewelry class; we’ll be making a wrap bracelet using a central clay medallion and recycled bits of fashion jewelry. 

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Garden Totems
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Garden Totems

I’m particularly drawn to your garden address number totems. These are so clever…and I might need to make one for my own home. 🙂 I assume that these are custom orders that clients work with you to design?

I began making outdoor totems about ten years ago. What started out as simple house numbers stacked on top of each other has morphed into many other creative outdoor garden shapes. I work with an individual client to customize a design just for them. Words, numbers and a variety of shapes can be stacked to create a beautiful outdoor adornment. Some of the pieces are finished with mixed media to complete the design. I have created, installed and shipped numerous totem combinations throughout the United States!

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Greenware
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Greenware

In perusing your website, I’m so impressed by your range and creativity. Who or what inspires you?

I LOVE making things with clay. It’s my favorite part of the process. As I mentioned previously, I get input and inspiration from my customers. Additionally, I tend to make items I like to use. Bright colors and lots of texture make me happy and led me to my current use of low-fire clays and glazes. Texturing clay reminds me of different fabric patterns I combined when I used to sew clothing in my younger years. I like to make many of the texture tools I use. Pinterest and Instagram are other great inspiration resources.  It’s helpful to see what other potters have made to spark an idea.

Clay by Laura - Blue Cake Stand
Clay by Laura – Blue Cake Stand

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

I love to cook which is another reason I like to make pieces that are FUNctional. I want people to use my creations in their everyday lives and I often include a recipe with pieces I sell. This gives people an idea of how to use a particular pottery piece. Additionally, it’s another marketing tool. My recipe cards include a photo of one of my recipe boxes, my name, logo, and contact information!

Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura - Yarn Bowls
Laura Silberman of Clay by Laura – Yarn Bowls

I am also an avid knitter and I knit every night when watching television with my husband. It is a meditative and relaxing activity for me.

Also, I putter in my garden. Digging in the dirt and planting flowers keep me busy and give me an excuse to spend time outdoors!

Where can people find you? 

Online:

Galleries/Shops:

Upcoming events:

Making a Wrap Bracelet – The Muse Craft Party – June 21


I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays”. Find past interviews on the Ceramicscapes Blog using the category search function on the right hand sidebar. Would you like to be featured on my blog? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.

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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? 

Online:

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.

Meet Jennifer Darner Wolfe of JD Wolfe Pottery

Jennifer is the creative force behind JD Wolfe Pottery, a pottery studio in Wisconsin, that specializes in modern wheel thrown pottery for everyday use. 

JD Wolfe Pottery - 8 piece wheel thrown nesting bowl set
JD Wolfe Pottery – 8 piece wheel thrown nesting bowl set

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.

JD Wolfe Pottery - Wee heart shaped dishes make great salt cellars
JD Wolfe Pottery – Wee heart shaped dishes make great salt cellars

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.

JD Wolfe Pottery - Classic wheel thrown mugs glazed in white
JD Wolfe Pottery – Classic wheel thrown mugs glazed in white

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.

JD Wolfe Pottery - Wheel thrown bowl is the perfect size for a yummy bowl of couscous
JD Wolfe Pottery – Wheel thrown bowl is the perfect size for a yummy bowl of couscous

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.

JD Wolfe Pottery - Cloud Dishes
JD Wolfe Pottery – Cloud Dishes

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, Anthropologieterrain 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.

JD Wolfe Pottery - Wheel thrown plate with Howling Wolf BBQ glazed short ribs
JD Wolfe Pottery – Wheel thrown plate with Howling Wolf BBQ glazed short ribs

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!

JD Wolfe Pottery - Wheel Thrown Plaid Cups
JD Wolfe Pottery – Wheel Thrown Plaid Cups

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?

Online:

Shop online – www.jdwolfepottery.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/jdwolfepottery
Instagram – www.instagram.com/jdwolfepottery

Shop local:

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

JD Wolfe Pottery - Handmade pottery
JD Wolfe Pottery – Handmade pottery

Upcoming events:

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.