Meet Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery

Today, I introduce the beautiful garden and fantasy themed pottery of Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery. Karrita lives and works in tropical Florida and is inspired by her love of gardening and literature.

Queen Bee PotteryMeet Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery

Hi, I’m Karrita Renzelmann, the maker behind Queen Bee Pottery.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery in her studio
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery in her studio

We have something in common. We both previously worked for United Airlines as flight attendants. My own clay journey is full of starts and pivots. How did you find clay and make the transition?

Cindy, I think that this is such an interesting coincidence that we both had long careers flying with United Airlines and both ended up working in pottery. I often miss flying to some unknown international city for a day or two of exploration, but probably wouldn’t have discovered clay if I were still flying.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Fairy House 2
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Fairy House 2

I found clay when my husband surprised me with a pottery wheel for my birthday in 2006. I had recently resigned from flying and now had the ability to be home consistently and take a weekly class in ceramics & pottery at the local community college. It was love at first touch!

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Mug
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Mug

I’m always interested in how people name their creative businesses and I love the name of your’s, Queen Bee Pottery! How did you settle on a name for your pottery?

I have a deep connection to nature, gardening and femininity. I thought that the name ‘Queen Bee Pottery’ combined those pieces of me well and also had a memorable ring to it. Although, I did question the common connotation of what a ‘Queen Bee’ can be thought of in our society. I chose to go with it and let my work convey what Queen Bee Pottery means to me.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Bird Houses
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Bird Houses

Your work has a really strong theme – everything to do with the garden. This must really help you organize the items that you make. Can you explain how your garden and love of plants influences your work?

Plants, nature and blooming flowers are what visually bring me the most comfort and wonder in life, and I somehow hope to convey a bit of those feelings in what I create with clay. We have the toads in the garden, so we need a toad abode, then we have the flower fairy spirits in the blossoms, so of course, we need a few fairy houses and then there’s the birds, and the lizards, and it goes on and on with all the inspiration to be found in a garden.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Toad Abode
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Toad Abode
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Fairy House
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Fairy House

When my daughter was younger, we loved making fairy houses in our garden after reading several books about garden fairies at our local library. We would also construct them at nearby parks out of found materials. You make delightful ceramic fairy houses that are becoming collector items for your fans. How and why did you start delving into fantasy?

I think my curiosity and imagination were piqued by fantasy as a child, starting with classic fairy tales, flower fairy images for the alphabet created by Cicely M Barker, and continuing with books in the science fiction and magical realism genres…I’m still a sucker to this day for anything by Alice Hoffman or Marion Zimmer Bradley. The love of magical realism meets the love of nature when I see flowers blooming and imagine Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words “Earth Laughs in Flowers.” Sounds a bit saccharine, but really is true for me.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Fairy House Detail
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Fairy House Detail

I bet you remember the excitement your daughter had about fairies and creating spaces for them…there’s something magical about a child’s unquestioning belief. I recently made a fairy house for my 4 nieces and threw them a fairy garden making party…their glee, curiosity and belief were priceless to witness and be a part of!

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Clay Sprigs
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Clay Sprigs

You have a second successful Etsy Shop where you sell bisque clay sprig molds, clay texture rollers and press molds. Why did you decide to dip your toes into the ceramic supply realm?

I took a bas-relief tile making workshop given by an amazing potter named, Jan Kolenda. I used the skills learned from that workshop to start making ceramic sprigs for my own work and then realized that I had a product to offer to the clay community that no one else was offering at the time. The bonus part for me is that sales of the bisque sprigs can support purchasing all the clay and glaze I needed for the Queen Bee Pottery business.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Berry Bowl Colander
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Berry Bowl Colander

Do you sell any of the sprigs that you use in your own work in your supply shop? If so, are you worried that others will try to replicate your style?

I don’t offer sprig molds in the ClayStamps.etsy.com shop that I use in my own work. They say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Sometimes I have wondered with mild irritation why someone would copy, but now I try to look at it as just sharing inspiration.

People have reached out from across the world to show me photos of their work, modeled from mine, who were just plain excited to have been inspired from my work and share that with me. There’s something special about that kind of invisible interchange. We have no control over what others will do and in the end, the feeling and vibe in one’s work really can’t be replicated.

Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery - Berry Bowl
Karrita Renzelmann of Queen Bee Pottery – Berry Bowl

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

I love to garden, be in nature, eat incredible food, play games (Scrabble & Backgammon) and spend time with my closest friends. Also, I travel occasionally…I’ve recently fallen in love with the hot springs found in Costa Rica near the Arenal Volcano. Hot springs in the middle of a lush, tropical setting…pure bliss for me! I’m going back in a few months to celebrate a milestone birthday!

Where can people find you? 

Etsy Shop: QueenBeePottery.com
Instagram: instagram.com/QueenBeePottery @queenbeepottery
Facebook: facebook.com/QueenBeePottery
Pinterest: pinterest.com/QueenBeePottery
Etsy Supply Shop: ClayStamps.etsy.com


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. Interested in being featured? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.

Meet Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery

Jackson Gray is the creative force behind her business she has cleverly named Jackpots Pottery. While Jackson utilizes a variety of techniques to decorate her ceramic work, I just love her sgraffito tiles and I think you will too.

Jackson Gray - JackPots Pottery
Jackson Gray – Jackpots Pottery

Please Introduce Yourself:

Hi, I’m Jackson Gray, a studio potter from San Diego, CA. My pottery business is called Jackpots Pottery.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery Working in Her Studio
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery Working in Her Studio

How did your clay journey begin?

I came to clay after years of thinking I had no artistic talent (thanks to a high school art teacher’s advice to stick with math). While hiking one day, I fell into step with an acquaintance who asked me what I would do if I didn’t have to work for a living. I told him I had always wanted to throw clay on a pottery wheel. I swear I didn’t know that he manufactured potters wheels for a living. Long story short, I have been working with clay since that day in 1992. I learned mostly from community college classes and by taking workshops in San Diego and around the U.S.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Sgraffito Platter Based on a Photo of a Heron Rookery Jackson's Husband Took
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Sgraffito Platter Based on a Photo of a Heron Rookery Jackson’s Husband Took

You employ a number of surface decoration techniques including adding texture using printmaking techniques, slip inlay and sgraffito. I am particularly drawn to your sgraffito work – your tiles are fabulous! Why not concentrate on one technique or style?

Thank you, I love the sgraffito too, but it is really hard on my body. I have carpel tunnel, but have the issue under control by using a wrist brace and taking frequent breaks. This is not to say that I would do only sgraffito if my wrist would allow it.

I’m a bit crazy when it comes to texture and am always looking for something new. One thing I do is carve lino mats to use as a template. I realize having one cohesive look would be more “professional” looking, but when I have just shown the sgraffito work at craft fairs, I couldn’t cover my expenses. My booth was gorgeous but people weren’t spending their money there.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Booth at Craneway Winter Crafts Show 2016
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Booth at Craneway Winter Crafts Show 2016

Your sgraffito tiles have a narrative quality to them. What is your inspiration or where do you find your subject matter for your tiles?

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Surfer Girl Sgraffito Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Surfer Girl Sgraffito Tile

My first tiles were surfers or flowers. My son surfs and I live by the beach. Also,  I love tropical flowers, but inspiration can come from anywhere. I attended a lecture by Hawaiian bird photographer, Jack Jeffrey and was inspired to carve one of his photos of an I’iwi, which is where I started adding a bit of color to my sgraffito. It seemed necessary on that bird.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - I'iwi Sgraffito Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – I’iwi Sgraffito Tile

Another time, a friend got a new dog and I had to carve it – which has led to an interesting custom option, I’ll make a tile of your pet from a photo. I recently sent tiles to a gallery that is having an exhibit entitled “Homage to the Ranches” – the night I saw the title, I lay in bed, pre-sleep with a busy mind – and an old 1950- something pick-up truck popped into my head as a “ranch truck”, which then led me to the internet to see what those lines actually look like.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - '50's Pickup Truck Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – ’50’s Pickup Truck Tile

I personally love hand-building with slabs of clay, though I throw occasionally. Are you primarily a hand-builder? Why? 

I am primarily a hand-builder. I have a wheel and am an OK thrower, but I never became really good at throwing. When I try to make a set of something the same size, I just have much more luck if I start with a template – and then there’s that texture thing. It can be so crisp when put on a slab.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Carving a Linoleum Mat
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Carving a Linoleum Mat

Can we talk about your wholesale business? I noticed that you are a member of indieMe.com which is formerly wholesalecrafts.com. How do you balance the retail and wholesale side of your pottery business? 

I only have the framed tiles on IndieMe.com right now. Quite frankly, I haven’t done much there, so balancing isn’t difficult. I probably should do more to promote that side of business. I spend a lot of time with my Etsy site.

You will be teaching a weeklong workshop this summer at the Mendocino Art Center in Northern California called, “Patterns, Seams and Darts: Sewing Up Pots With Personality. Did you apply to teach, did the art center reach out to you, or how did you find the opportunity to teach at such a wonderful place?

I applied to and was fortunate to be accepted to sell at the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco in 2016. Evan Hobart, the program director from the Mendocino Art Center, was in attendance promoting their summer workshops. He saw my work and asked if I would like to teach a sgraffito workshop – which I did last summer.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Darted Tripod Textured Mugs
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Darted Tripod Textured Mugs

A few days into the sgraffito workshop, I showed the class how to make a tri-foot mug. Evan loved it and asked if I’d like to come back this summer for a longer class and teach hand-building. It feels pretty special to me since the first workshop I ever travelled to attend was in Mendocino, so I’ve circled back to the beginning.

Where do you primarily show and sell your work? Craft Shows, galleries, online?

Before this year, I would say most of my sales were at weekend craft shows, I did quite a lot of them. In 2015 I think I did 15 or 16, which feels like a lot to me. But, my Etsy shop has started doing better which makes the idea of all that packing & unpacking, schlepping and setting up the booth seem like so much more work…I am at retirement age, after all.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Water Color of Husband Taking Photographs
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery – Jackson’s Husband Taking Photographs

Who or what inspires you? 

Nature…birds, rocks, trees, the clay itself, other potters and their enthusiasm, my husband and his love for the outdoors – which motivates me to get out and experience nature.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Big Horn Sheep Inspiration
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Big Horn Sheep Inspiration
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Big Horn Sheep Sgraffito Tile
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Big Horn Sheep Sgraffito Tile

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

Hahaha, see the previous question. We’ve always camped – roll out a pad and a sleeping bag on the ground. If the weather permits, we skip the tent. But as I mentioned earlier, we are getting older and bought a camper last summer. We are planning several trips this summer. After the Mendocino workshop, we’ll continue on to Oregon for the solar eclipse and a gathering of muddy friends from the EtsyMudTeam.

We also like to hike and cross-country ski. Although a shoulder injury has kept me away, but I’ve been repaired and look forward to next season.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Manta Ray Inspiration
Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery – Manta Ray Inspiration

Snorkeling – In September I had a blast swimming with manta rays on a night snorkel in Hawaii and a few days later, dolphins joined us

We also love to travel and have been lucky enough to visit several countries.

I’m pretty involved with 2 of my grandkids who live nearby – unfortunately the others (we have 8 total) are not close.

Jackson Gray of JackPots Pottery - Ava Makes a Mug
Jackson Gray of Jackpots Pottery – Ava Makes a Mug

I read mysteries, watch way too much television, listen to music and NPR, and humor my cats

Where can people find you? 

Online:

Wholesale:

  • indieMe.com – I’m artist #26526 and if a visitor password is needed, use JaxPots

In Person:

Upcoming events:

The workshop that I am teaching at Mendocino on August 14–18, 2017 is all I have scheduled this year since my husband will be retiring soon. We plan to explore this country a bit, but here is the link to register for the workshop: http://www.mendocinoartcenter.org/Summer17/Gray.html


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. Interested in being featured? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.

Ceramic Bird Totems + Thank you for coming out to the Colorado Potter’s Sale!

First, I want to thank everyone who visited the Colorado Potters Guild Show this past weekend! I am so humbled and honored at how well my new ceramic bird totem sculptures were received and am pleased that all but 1 of my sculptures sold.

Thank you for coming out to the Colorado Potter's Sale!

Ceramic Bird Totems

As prototypes, I made 2 larger stacked ceramic totems that featured a bird on the very top. Unfortunately, I only have a photograph of one of them. I do have some rough photos of the work in progress that I can use for future iterations.

CeramicScapes Large Ceramic Bird Totem
CeramicScapes Large Ceramic Bird Totem – Roughly 2 Feet High

My thought in making these stacked sculptures is two fold. I am interested in sculptural art work and other than the ceramic wall pod installations that I have made in the past, I’ve never made sculpture. I didn’t know if I have the capacity, interest or even the market for the work.

CeramicScapes Ceramic Bird Totems
CeramicScapes Ceramic Bird Totems – The Smaller Ones Are About 8″ High

Amazingly, I have the interest and the market! I am pleasantly surprised at people’s reception. It’s affirming and wonderful to know that people really like the new work. I’m happy to say that I had one of my best shows ever in terms of comments and sales. It’s enough to keep me going! 

CeramicScapes Small Ceramic Bird Totem
CeramicScapes Small Ceramic Bird Totem

Ceramic Garden Stakes

8 ceramic birds that I envisioned as garden stakes also made their appearance at the potters guild show. I will be making more sculptural work for the garden in the near future, including totem stacks. I sold all 8 garden stakes by the morning of the second day of the Colorado Potter’s Guild show. Displaying them required a bit of on the fly thinking. I lugged a terra-cotta pot filled with Mexican beach pebbles to Denver that I picked up at a local hardware store to use for the display.

Ceramic Bird Garden Stakes - Display
Ceramic Bird Garden Stakes – Display

My rigged display is pretty heavy, but it works to hold the garden stakes in place.

Spring Horseshoe Market

In the meantime, I need to finish decorating some greenware today that I plan on bisque firing tomorrow. I’m participating in a one day craft market this Saturday, May 13, 2017 in Denver, CO at 46th and Tennyson. If you’re in the metro area, please stop by and say hello!

I’ll be sharing a booth at the Horseshoe Market in Denver with Sarah Christensen Ceramics.

Olinger Moore Chapel
4345 West 46th Ave
Denver, CO 80212

9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Meet Page Kelly Piccolo of Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery

Page Kelly Piccolo is the owner and creative force behind Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery located in Montana. Page makes lovely functional pottery that feature botanical themes and the texture of fabrics.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery

Please Introduce Yourself:

My name is Page. I’ve long wished that I could just be monoeponymous (I made that word up).  If I could legally go by Page, I would do it. Currently, I live in a bedroom community outside of Helena, MT, which is known both as Montana City and Clancy. I’m a fifth-generation Montanan, but I spent a good chunk of my early adulthood moving my furniture from one side of the country to the other and back again.

Page Kelly Piccolo In Her Studio
Page Kelly Piccolo In Her Studio

How did your clay journey begin?

I vaguely remember an art class in sixth grade, or so, where our art teacher, whom I can only remember as Mr. M???? (my brain continues to refuse to fill in the space) had a short ceramic section where we all had an opportunity to throw on the wheel. We also built a bust. Of all the pieces that I’ve lost to the kiln gods over time, that bust is the one I miss the most. My memory of it was that it was really good, but we didn’t carve out the centers, so everything exploded, likely due to residual water. I love figurative sculpture, and want to explore that work more in the future.

When I was a teen, I had the opportunity to do a studio visit with Judy Ericksen. She let me throw a couple of bowls on her wheel and then at some point we did a raku firing. I enjoyed it immensely. Sadly, I didn’t get the support or encouragement to explore pottery further.

Many years later, lifetimes, I left my second husband and returned to Montana to keep my mother alive. We’d lost three immediate family members in the span of two years, and she was sliding down a black hole of depression. We sold her “in-town” house and moved to a twenty-acre property where she, and I, could start over.

The road to our house went by the Archie Bray Foundation and I drove by twice a day for months. I finally stopped in and signed up for a class and I took my first official pottery class July and August of 2003. Jeremy “Jr.” Kane was my teacher. The following January, I had enrolled in Carroll College with the intent of getting some kind of degree. In the fall of 2004, I took a class through the college that was in cooperation with the Bray, and Ben Krupka was my teacher that semester. The semester-end crit was brutal, I was unprepared for it, but in the long run, it has been the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given.

“BE INTENTIONAL.”

I’ve since taken several classes and workshops at the Bray, and I was a studio tech for Ralph Esposito at the college for a couple of semesters. In 2007, I’d become frustrated with the community firing at the Bray and no longer had access to the ceramic studio at the college. This pushed me to buy a kiln and a wheel which I set up a little basement studio.

By and large, my education has been in my studio – pushing myself to do better, to try something new, and to problem-solve. I’ve had four physical spaces in the last ten years. Between some interruptions of moving and having a daughter, I’ve found those breaks have led to great leaps of improvement in my work. The time off quiets my hands, but not my mind as I constantly obsess about clay.

I’m curious about the name of your clay business, “Zephyr Valley Pottery”. Is this a place or region in Montana where you live?

I’m fuzzy on the timeline, but some time before Montana was a state, my Great-Great-Grandfather had registered a livestock brand with the territory. It reads, “Reversed Hanging Z V.” This brand was eventually inherited by my grandmother who had a ranch in a valley in Meagher County. When I was a teen, Gram made a sign with the name “Zephyr Valley Ranch” which had the image of the brand on it.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Logo
Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Logo

I wish I knew what happened to that sign, I’d love to have it. In any case, my grandparents are long dead, the ranch has been sold, but my mother retains a quarter of the rights to the brand. In homage to my grandma I named my pottery business Zephyr Valley Pottery and now it’s Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery. I use an image of the brand inside the jug form as my signature on my pots.

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Bowl with Decal
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Bowl with Decal

What happens if you ever leave Montana? I ask, mainly, because my creative business was called Colorado Art Studio at one time. In 2013, I rebranded my as ceramicscapes so that I could easily move in the future should I desire. I also really debated whether to use my name, but my last name is so difficult to pronounce and spell. Naming a creative business is more challenging than it seems – have you ever considered using your name instead?

As far as the business name goes, I don’t have any issue in taking it with me wherever I go, because it really is more of a familial connection rather than a geographic one. The problem that I’ve recently come across is connecting my business name with me, the artist, and the work that I’ve been exhibiting.

Last year I began applying to juried shows in earnest, and I’ve been very fortunate to be accepted into many of them. The galleries put Page Kelly Piccolo on the labels, not Zephyr Valley Ceramics so I don’t think the connection is necessarily being made. Fortunately, Google has me covered, but folks have to think to search for me there. This is just one of the areas where being an artist in business can be challenging, there is no clear path or one right way.

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Yunomi with decal
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Yunomi with decal

I am excited to learn that you (and another friend, Judi Tavill) have both been invited to show your work at the AKAR 2017 Yunomi invitational. I am thrilled for both of you. Did you apply to the show, or did AKAR find you online and invite you?

I can’t even begin to express how excited I am to be a participant in this show. For me, this show is THE ceramics show of the year. I always buy a piece (or three) and sit at my computer hitting refresh waiting for the show to open. I LOVE this show.

This truly is an invitation only exhibit – I did not apply. I’m not entirely sure how they found me, but a couple of things happened. As I mentioned, I had earnestly applied and been accepted into several shows last year. Two of those shows were pretty big – one at Companion Gallery and one at the Charlie Cummings Gallery. I was so excited to be selected to those shows.

The other thing that happened was a post by ClayAKAR on Facebook that I commented on. I read it as a kind of fun, ‘hey we’re sending out invitations, is there anyone we should be sending invitations to’ post, so I was like “Uh, yeah, ME!” (none of this is the actual quote, but the essence). Maybe three or four weeks later, I received the questionnaire asking if I would like to participate. I might have hyperventilated a little.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - New Studio
Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – New Studio

You recently moved to a new home after building your (what appeared to be) dream home. As someone who moves fairly frequently as well, I understand the impulse. Why did you make the move to the new place. How has that impacted your clay practice?

Yeah, I really have to quit moving. Where to start…. My husband and I actually built our dream home in 2012. We have another business, BearGrass Homes, which is a construction business, now more property management. When we built the 2012 house, we were in a neighborhood where we could pick which school our daughter could attend.

In 2014, I had a health issue that caused me to quit working in the studio for an extended period, and I had to get a full-time J.O.B. outside of my studio. We set up our life and work schedules based on my daughter going to a specific school. They had an after-school program that the other school did not, which meant that I could go to work and not worry about her after school. We discovered when we went to register her, the school had drawn hard lines, and we were outside of that line by two blocks. They also made a rule that they were not accepting out-of-district kids, no exceptions.

I couldn’t mentally or emotionally get to the place where the other school would work, so I moved my family. My husband couldn’t be convinced to buy a house that was already built, so we found a lot and built another home. And that house was another dream house, one level living with a few bells and whistles with a studio in the basement. But, I was regaining my health and working in the studio again. Also, my husband was unhappy with the location.

Page Kelly Piccolo -Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Yunomi
Page Kelly Piccolo -Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Yunomi

As I achieved more success with my pottery business and started getting more wholesale and consignment accounts, the path to being a full-time potter again seems really viable. But the mortgage on the new dream house would never have allowed for that. I started looking for a home that had an outbuilding and needed some TLC, something inexpensive that we could improve on.

I found it. It was back in the old neighborhood my husband and daughter loved, and the school district has different rules for existing students, so we bought this beat-up repo house. Now I have my dream studio and the family is glad to be back in the old ‘hood. I’m closer to being financially able to go full-time in the studio again.

My clay practice has had a lot of interruptions. Emotionally, it’s incredibly challenging being away from the creative process. Mentally, it’s challenging because I’m not producing work, so I get behind on orders or goals. Right now, I don’t have anything to submit for exhibitions because I’m in full order-filling mode.

I work 60-70 hours a week, 40 at my day gig and the rest in the studio. I hope to find balance someday. Strangely, these breaks have a strong positive impact on the quality of my work because it has improved by leaps and bounds. I think a lot of that has to do with all the time I think about the work and the process, and the challenges I want to overcome.

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Cup
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Cup

I imagine that Montana has a fairly decent, but seasonal tourist season similar to Colorado. How do you sell your work typically? On Etsy? Or is your best market local such as galleries, shops or craft markets?

This is a tough question. My hometown is an odd place for me. I don’t fit into any specific cubby, and until recently it’s been challenging to find a place to sell my work locally. I don’t really do the Montana touristy stuff – graphics of the state, elk, moose or the like. And, I’m not one of the elite potters that have been through the Bray residency.

I’ve done okay with Etsy, and I think that continues to improve over time. I did the wholesale trade-show circuit in Montana, but I ran up against the “oh you use photography? Can you put a moose on that?” To which my answer was, “Can? Yes. Want to? Going to? No.”

Part of my impetus for applying to the exhibits last year was to see if my work would sell nationally. Now, I’m working on building a portfolio to send to galleries across the country, but I’ve also been developing my wholesale and consignment accounts.

I have a lovely boutique in Bozeman, MT that has led to a wholesale account with a farm-to-roaster coffee shop. Recently, a local gallery has added me to their stable. I’m also a member of Montana Clay, and last year we had our first studio tour. It was very successful and we are hoping to build on that. Helena has a Spring and Fall art walk each year, and I try to participate in that.

Zephyr Vallery Ceramics and Pottery Studio
Zephyr Vallery Ceramics and Pottery Studio

One of the primary goals I had with this last move was to have a place that people can come to and be more informed about the process and buy from me directly. I will be hosting studio sales once or twice a year to bring in the larger crowds, but I am always happy to have locals come by. I’m hoping to hold an Open-House style event here in the beginning of June. This is all part of rebuilding the business, and it takes time. At the same time, I hope I can keep up!

Page Kelly Piccolo - Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery - Bowl
Page Kelly Piccolo – Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery – Bowl

You take wonderful photographs of your ceramic work. Photographing work is challenging for a lot of potters, myself included. In scrolling through your Instagram feed, I’m curious about your photo set up that you posted on April 1, 2017. Can you expand on the equipment and techniques you use?

Thank you. My husband should really get all the credit. I take most of my pictures but he has done all the work on figuring out how to get the effects I’m looking for. He’s the kind of guy that gets interested in something and then has to figure out how it all works.

A few years ago, he became interested in landscape and astral photography, so I challenged him to help me with my pot pictures. We started with a lightbox on the kitchen counter, we had a space in a storage room where I hung a cheap canvas wrapped in tinfoil from the ceiling to use as a bounce light. We tried all kinds of options.

Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Photography Set Up
Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery Photography Set Up

The set up that you mention is now in my new studio. I’ve got a roll of white paper, a piece of foam board to use as a light bounce, and a strobe light with a soft-box. Along with these essentials is the stands to hold everything up and in place. The strobe is on a remote, so instead of a flash, I get a much stronger burst of light. The angles of the light and the bounce board are about 90° to each other. The benefit is a controlled outcome and I can take pictures in my studio and not worry about any environmental light from windows or the ceiling.

I get a graduated background effect when I want it, or I can open up the angle of the light and bounce board, add a light, and have a white or grey background. Because my pots are white, the graduated background helps make them pop a bit more. I love natural light pictures, but my schedule doesn’t allow for me to take pictures on Mother Nature’s schedule.

I’m excited to see what ClayAKAR does this year with the Yunomi Invitational. This year they are posting 360° views of each pot.

I had to delete the Periscope app on my phone last year because I ran out of space. When I replaced my phone I never re-installed the app, because I found the notifications distracting. Are “scopes” automatically archived now to watch later? Are you still active on Periscope? If so, what does it add to your clay practice?

Periscope is awesome. It’s also extremely distracting. (you can turn the notifications off in settings, btw.)

The clay community that has been built around the ‘Scopers and the viewers is amazing. Initially, it was really addicting and I watched and broadcast a lot. There were a few hiccups initially, but Periscope has improved a lot of its features in the last year.

So here’s the bottom line: As a broadcaster, I love it when my viewers interact, ask questions, engage. Hearts are like applause (tap the screen to give a heart). The trolls can be really really super awful, so I limit who can chat to those who follow me. I can look at your profile and see if you are someone who is actually interested in ceramics. Also, when I’m doing throwing demos it’s really hard to split my attention between my pots and the conversation, and it really slows me down.

Page Kelly Piccolo Applying Decals
Page Kelly Piccolo Applying Decals

I’m more likely to ‘Scope these days when I’m glazing or applying decals or the like. The broadcaster has the option to save the broadcasts or delete them, so yes, they can be archived. To conserve space on my devices, I delete the videos. I occasionally upload them to my YouTube channel because I will be referencing that video in a blog post.

And that last bit is really what Periscope has added to my practice. I re-started my blog on my website, because I felt like there was more information to share. Photos of completed work, links to other artists or products or whatever that was discussed in the broadcast. It helps fill in the spaces, and I think sharing information is one of the things that I most love about potters. We tend to be supportive of each other, and I want to pay that forward.

Who or what inspires you?

My daughter inspires me. Mostly to be the woman she can look to as an example of someone who is strong, independent, caring, kind, thoughtful, inclusive. I want better for my child than I had or did, so I try to model that for her.

Beyond that, in my art, I’m a sensory inspired person. I love texture, pattern and love subtlety or things that make me want to engage or investigate. Attention to how things feel is maybe more important than how my work looks.

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

Right now, I work mostly. I’m intent on getting back into the studio full-time and I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. I’ve also managed to get my arthritis and fibromyalgia under control so that I can physically handle going back to the studio. I study nutrition and am always working toward getting healthier. Recently, I started taking a pilates class once a week.

My mother-in-law taught me some knitting basics, so I’ve done a bit of that. Always looking for balance in life, never quite getting there. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I also hope to get some camping in this summer.

Where can people find you? 

Online:

Shops/Galleries:


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. Interested in being featured? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.

Meet Sarah Christensen Ceramics

Sarah Christensen is a ceramic artist and the creative force behind Sarah Christensen Ceramics located in Denver, Colorado. She is known for her highly decorated wheel thrown functional work and ceramic wall pieces. 

Sarah Christensen Ceramics
Sarah Christensen Ceramics

Please introduce yourself:

I was always encouraged to be an artist, and I always wanted to be one.  While I dabbled in lots of mediums as a kid, I didn’t touch clay until high school. Only then, did I really think it could happen. I went to college to blow glass, but after many burns, found clay to be more conducive to how I translated my ideas with my hands. That was all it took, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Wheel Thrown Bowl
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Wheel Thrown Bowl

How many years have your been working with clay?

I’ve been working in clay 25 years.

Do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?

I have a bfa in ceramics from Alfred University, which gave me a great base of knowledge from which to work.  I think I am still processing all the info I absorbed there. Since graduation I have been more interested in finding my voice in my work, and have chosen to limit my exposure to new techniques and influences. I love seeing what others are doing, but I get distracted easily and overwhelmed with new ideas which limits my focus.

Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Covered Jar
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Covered Jar

As a graduate of Alfred’s ceramic program, one of the most respected clay programs in the nation, can you speak to the rigor of the program and how it has prepared you to pursue clay full time in recent years? 

I can still hear my professors when I am working. It is rare for me to make anything without thinking, what would they think. Is this piece up to standard?  It has made me a harsh critic of my work, and others work as well. I’m okay with that, I want to make the very best work I can and I want to encourage others to do the same. 
 
Often, I still think of the advice my pottery teacher gave us to wait to put the work out there and to make it the very best you can. Once the  work is in the world, that is the work people will expect you to make, so don’t get stuck making under developed work. I’m not sure anything prepared me for life as a full time artist, but I do feel like I want to live up to the standards set by my education and the talented people I went to school with.
 

Were you ever interested in pursuing a MFA in ceramics?

 
I’ve always debated MFA, no MFA. I still think about the possibility, if it’s something that would enhance my work or open up opportunities. I guess I haven’t made a conclusive decision about it yet so it’s still on the table.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Sugar and Creamer Set
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Sugar and Creamer Set

How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?

Working on lots of projects at once keeps my day interesting. I throw for part of the day, then switch to handbuilding or sculpting. It is easier on the body to move around, and I don’t get antsy doing the same thing all day. I throw functional ware in porcelain, handbuild slab pots, make decorative wall hangings, and sometimes make attempts at what I call “real art”, but it’s really just playing in the studio.

All my work is very focused on surface decoration. I like simple forms that give me a canvas to use slip, glaze pencils, glaze and stamps, to layer color and image.  Soda firing has always been a part of that process. It adds that extra magic to a surface, and it is always a surprise.

 

We are both members of the Colorado Potters Guild. What does it mean to you to be a member of the guild?

When I joined the guild, I was desperate to have a place to fire, but otherwise I was fine working in solitude. I didn’t realize at first how enriching it would be to have a group of clay friends to talk shop with. These days I am constantly grateful for all the enthusiasm, problem solving and fun that being in this group brings.

Sarah Christensen - Spraying soda into the vapor kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild
Sarah Christensen – Spraying soda into the vapor kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild

We have been firing the soda kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild together with a few others and you lead our firings. What is your philosophy or end goal for a soda firing as it relates to your work since it’s so highly decorated with color and fine line work?

The end goal is always the same. How can I get the most exciting, beautiful surface possible on a pot? It has certainly been a process to find just the right firing to keep the decoration intact, while making sure the soda does its magic. 
 
Lately, my interest is in getting what I call “radioactive” color. Most people associate high fire with brown or subdued colors, so I love that I can get bright colors, but retain the complexity that comes with higher temps. The soda has the potential to really enhance the glaze colors, while also softening the design work and making it more variable.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Wheel Thrown Mug
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Wheel Thrown Mug

Technically this makes you teacher or instructor by taking the lead in our firings (and you’re good at it). Have you ever thought about teaching classes to other potters or aspiring potters? Why or why not?

I have done a little teaching, but have not found a good fit yet. There are times I think I would like to teach, but it is hard to give up my own studio time for it. I wouldn’t rule teaching out if the right opportunity came about, it just hasn’t been a goal particularly.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled

People love your functional work and I think your sculptural wall boxes are under appreciated. Would you like to move more into the sculptural realm, or do you enjoy straddling both functional and sculptural?

There is something very comforting about making pots. They are art objects, but their function gives them purpose and meaning and definition, so I don’t have to. As long as my pots function, they are what they were meant to be.  Its nice to have the container of function and it takes the pressure off when I’m not feeling especially creative, but still want to work.  
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
 
I never intended to show the sculptures when I started making them. They are an exploration of a personal experience, and I really wanted them to stay private. I guess I (mostly) got over this feeling, plus I ran out of wall space to store them.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
 
I have been missing making them lately, but the functional pots have taken precedence as I try to get them into the world…. I would love to make more of the wall pieces, but I feel so much more pressure to make them meaningful, to have them say something about me or the world. Sometimes it’s just really nice to sit down and make a mug.
 

Who or what inspires you?

I’m loving Danish midcentury pottery right now. But inspiration is everywhere, all the time.

Where can people find you?

Online:

Sarah Christensen Ceramics
Colorado Potters Guild Website
Instagram: @sarahsclaybits

Galleries:

Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery
Gallery 1505 

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 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. 

Meet Jim Bridgeman – Ceramic Artist

Jim Bridgeman of Bridgeman Studios is a ceramic artist from Georgia. While his ceramic work is minimal in color and finish, his creations are functional works of art that beg to be displayed.

Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist - Ceramic Chess Set
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist – Ceramic Chess Set

Please Introduce Yourself:

Hi, I’m Jim Bridgeman. A retired air traffic controller, husband and father and now ceramic artist? (I struggle calling myself an artist/potter)
 
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist - Handbuilt Vase
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist – Handbuilt Vase

How did clay hook you? 

In 2006 I was forced to take an early retirement from my job as an air traffic controller due to some health issues. Unsure what I was going to do with the rest of my life, my wife found a pottery wheel throwing class offered at the local rec department. I was hooked day one.

Ive known” you since about 2007/2008 when we were both members of the Etsy Mud Team. Your work has taken a fairly dramatic stylistic shift since then. Can you pinpoint when this happened or was it gradual? 

Yep, dramatic is correct, but not unexpected to me. In May 2012, I discovered Neil Gaiman’s graduation speech to The University of the Arts. A month later I spent 10 days in Uganda helping out in a remote village and spending time with two kids we sponsor there. I listened to Neil Gaiman’s speech over 50 times during the two weeks in Uganda and travel time to and from. Upon returning from Uganda, due to budget cuts, I was let go from a job I held as a contract air traffic control instructor for the FAA. This allowed me to begin handbuilding where much of the work is both very time consuming and time critical.
 
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist - Ceramic Dream Bottle
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist – Ceramic Dream Bottle

The “dream” bottle is one of the first pieces I made after being let go and was greatly inspired by the portion of Neil Gaiman’s speech where he says:  

“A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
 
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist - Horizontal Nail Vase
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist – Horizontal Nail Vase

Your current ceramic work is very architectural, where do you find your inspiration?

Well, I actually went through 3 1/2 years of VA Tech’s 5 year architecture program before changing my major. Clay allows me to pursue and explore forms without getting caught up in the minutiae.
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist - Inserting Nails into Pot
Jim Bridgeman Ceramic Artist – Inserting Nails into Pot

Do you still sell online, or mostly at in person events? Why?

Almost all of my work is sold in person at art shows for a couple reasons. The first is the time consuming aspect of the type of work I make. I haven’t reached a point where I feel I can safely set aside work to list online and still feel comfortable with the amount of work I am bringing to shows. The second reason is that every piece is unique as well as every side of each piece. The time needed to photograph, edit, upload and list images of all sides of a piece wasn’t making business sense in terms of time spent vs sales from those listings.
 
Jim Bridgeman - "Punny" Pot(ter) t-shirt
Jim Bridgeman – “Punny” Pot(tery) t-shirt

I love your new t-shirts – theyre very pottery punny. How did you come up with the idea and why did you decide to get into the t-shirt business? 

The Pot[tery] Makes Me Happy!!! shirt was a design I submitted for a yearly pottery show I participate in here in GA called Perspectives. The intent of the design was to grab people’s attention from a distance with Pot Makes Me Happy!!!, then when they got closer they would see it actually said “Pottery” as well as the name of the show which had been on the bottom of the design.
 
The show went with a more traditional design than the one that I submitted. I can’t say I was surprised.
 
(Author’s note – check out Jim’s t-shirts in his Etsy shop – only $24.95 with FREE shipping! I plan on wearing mine to my next in person event.)

What do you do for fun outside of pottery?

I volunteer at the elementary school where (my now) high school aged kids attended to help kids with reading and math – I love it! I also like to take the dogs to a nearby nature area to hike a few miles a day. Feed the chipmunks that live around my studio.

Where can people find you? 

Bridgemanstudios.com forwards to a mostly empty etsy shop (aforementioned tshirts are there)

Upcoming events:

Winter Park, FL 3/17-19
Dogwood, Atlanta 4/7-9
Fired Works, Macon, GA 4/21-30
Artisphere, Greenville, SC 5/12-14
Reston, VA 5/20-21
Decatur, GA 5/27-28


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.