Jump to content

Any potters left? Not so many here now


Recommended Posts

In my small area of extreme Northewrn California we once had lots and lots of potters making full time living at a line of work now that long gone. I sell at 9 outlets in this county and all those outlets have very littlke other potters now. Shops cannot get handmade pottery much anymore. Sure there are Ceramic Art centers  with folks making small amounts of pots mostly one of a kind work but not funtuional very day wares.I only know of less than 3 fulltime potters working here now and they are pretty old and the volume of work is low now.Soon I'll be the last one.Our area used to have a few great programs in the colllages turing out potters now its art not functional wares.This killed the  stream of potters who used to replace the aging ones like me.I had a friend who is getting near 40 who tried for 10 plus years to make and and now has taken a job outside of clay.He on ly did high end work and that did not work for him here very well..

Not sure about other areas of the country but at my shows I never see yoiunger potters getting into the business. Out west we are a few in decreasing numbers at shows. More are part timers or hobbyists from art centers which are popular now everywhere.They come with a  tablefull of wares but not much backstock and all one of a kind pieces.Folks looking for dinnerware and a line of functional ware have few choices. For me its been a boom as I sell more and more but to the gift shop owner its sad as they cannot get work anymore. To my gallerys that buy/sell pottery  they order more from me now than ever as they cannot get any from new potters as they are nonexistent. Business for me is booming but I'm one of the last in this county doing it to a larger scale.

How about your area whats up with potters who are  full timers???

Link to post
Share on other sites

The majority of potters around here are sculptors or art potters, just going by the local clay association membership and my local art guild.  But even with that, there are quite a few full timers.  Mostly young.  We have many older potters that are either retiring (the luntz's sold Seattle pottery supply!!!) or have medical issues (larry bruning had a stroke a few years ago, his daughter I think has taken over most of the daily operation).  But the younger ones are finding alternate sources of income as well...  Becca from 5 lines pottery is a full timer, functional wares, but also owns a paint your pottery place and teaches courses there, is very actively seeking business outside of her yearly shows.  

I have decided that when I eventually lose my job, I will give it a try.  The owners of the business I work at are going to be retiring in the next few years and depending on the position I'm in at the time, I think it will be a good opportunity.

I would love to jump in and be full time, I've been seeking advice from functional potters and trying to form my plan now, I've noticed that it's quite difficult to get a mentor as many of the older potters are too busy running their businesses to provide help to outside talent.  If I had a time machine I would go back 20 years and seek out a mentor I could work for and do it the old fashioned way.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here in the mid-atlantic and northeast, I can think of a few young potters who have recently entered the professional world who are making outstanding work and doing great sales-wise. They seem to have what it takes to make their studio last. Lots of potters (and other artists) are being practical and happy to work a "day job" while also being a potter, which I did as well for many years. I can also think of potters of all stages in their careers who are struggling, but I don't think that's any different than any previous time period. Their struggles have nothing to do with current times. Right now people here love to buy handmade things. Overall, I don't see a shortage of potters here. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ya know Mark it is really, really expensive for kids to get started these days and expectations on lifestyle is so different than it used to be. Car payments are $5-$600 a month, apartments are $12-$1500 and food for one over five hundred. My wife and I prob go out 2-3 times a week and have since college in the early 80's and $75-$100 is my normal tab these days. I can remember when money wasn't as much of a motivator for everyone but also apartments were a couple hundred a month and everything was a lot cheaper, even adjusted for inflation and the peer pressure, at least in my crowd was not about having everything when you started out like it is now (or seems like to me anyway).

Always plenty of old people that are tired of the 9-5 though that are willing to learn and are detail oriented :rolleyes:

 

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

That's probably OK that few are heading into pottery as a career. To me that means that the desire to do that work is strong despite the current economic headwinds and that is what is needed to prosper. They've really decided that it's their life's work.

The potters I know, in our area, go to innumerable markets and sales - I get tired just hearing about it. I think I'm ready to just putter with pottery and enjoy other's work! :)

 

 

Edited by terrim8
Link to post
Share on other sites

In the areas I frequent- Chicago/Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis- there is definitely a generation of full time potters that are retiring, or at least slowing down and not doing very many shows per year, but they are being replaced by the next generation, folks in their 30's and 40's. I don't see a lot of potters in their 20's, probably because they're still trying to figure it out, or their work isn't quite good enough to get into the larger shows. Hard to say. I haven't seen a drop-off in total numbers at all. I think the key is having an educational system that has a strong clay program, or a community that supports in the arts. In Chicago it's Lillstreet Art center. Madison, WI is a hub for artists. Minneapolis has been putting out potters for decades.

Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, neilestrick said:

In the areas I frequent- Chicago/Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis- there is definitely a generation of full time potters that are retiring, or at least slowing down and not doing very many shows per year, but they are being replaced by the next generation, folks in their 30's and 40's. I don't see a lot of potters in their 20's, probably because they're still trying to figure it out, or their work isn't quite good enough to get into the larger shows. Hard to say. I haven't seen a drop-off in total numbers at all. I think the key is having an educational system that has a strong clay program, or a community that supports in the arts. In Chicago it's Lillstreet Art center. Madison, WI is a hub for artists. Minneapolis has been putting out potters for decades.

Yeah but at the same time you see things like red wing pottery in Minnesota closing down, that totally surprised me!  I dont know why it wasn't bought or handed off, but man that would have been an opportunity for a younger potter.  Strange times

Link to post
Share on other sites
19 minutes ago, liambesaw said:

Yeah but at the same time you see things like red wing pottery in Minnesota closing down, that totally surprised me!  I dont know why it wasn't bought or handed off, but man that would have been an opportunity for a younger potter.  Strange times

I think that for many potters, places like Red Wing are just seen as factories. Even if they're making things by hand, the production is done on such a scale and with little to no creative input by the individuals actually making the work that's it's not appealing to creative folks.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

I think that for many potters, places like Red Wing are just seen as factories. Even if they're making things by hand, the production is done on such a scale and with little to no creative input by the individuals actually making the work that's it's not appealing to creative folks.

That's every pottery that isn't a single person right?  Ephraim ceramics, wolf ceramics, and others seem to be able to attract young talent but they're also just throwing a limited line of factory pottery.  But also with the closing of the factory, young potters who may get their start doing something like that have to seek a different way to get mentorship/structure.

Link to post
Share on other sites

on their website under about us they do say they are open to offers but of course the fact that they closed means whatever value was there has now taken a hit, maybe a fatal one. What a shame. I have put together a number of small, high 6, low 7 figure deals over the years in other industries and usually the customer base and equipment of little companies like this at a minimum would keep an old brand like this together. Must have been just too much red ink to be able to pull it off. Hope they at least tried.

 

 

Edited by Stephen
Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Stephen said:

on their website under about us they do say they are open to offers but of course the fact that they closed means whatever value was there has now taken a hit, maybe a fatal one. What a shame. I have out together a number of small, high 6, low 7 figure deals over the years in other industries and usually the customer base and equipment of little companies like this at a minimum would keep an old brand like this together. Must have been just too much red ink to be able to pull it off. Hope they at least tried.

 

 

I guess it didn't make the news when they were shopping for buyers, but it made the news when they decided to close up shop.  The article I read said they were closing due to health concerns and age, so maybe just no one in the family wanted to continue the business.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

This conversation is the other side of the coin with regard to other posts I have made.  There are fewer potters and there fewer buyers because society places less value in arts and crafts in general.  I think there are a lot of causes contributing to this affect.  Mainly though, our culture values things not intended to last.  Technology of course has contributed to this.  Technology's rate of acceleration is exponential, the new is always better than the old.   Best to be progressive.  This mindset was introduced to the arts by academia, I believe.  Art must always be new and shocking to have value.  So we get the duct tape banana, animals in formaldehyde and chrome balloon rabbits.  High art.   Big money, great investment.

Honestly, I don't know how a young person begins a craft career without major assistance.   If I had, I would have done it myself in my 20s.  I wouldn't want to set up a business like this without first owning the property.  The idea of investing in a shop that could be evicted at any time would scare me off.  Sure, you can make profitable ceramics with a table and electric kiln, but support yourself?  Invest in growth?  Start a family?  Health insurance.  From what I read, young people aren't even likely to buy houses.

Things are changing and not for the better, I think.  Of course there are always exceptional people, all of my comments are applied towards generalities, not individuals.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to my next novel! Thank you in advance for reading :)

In my area I'm seeing a lot of the older production potters retire, but they're being replaced by some young new eager folks in their 20's, and there's a middle contingent of people who have started building businesses in the last 5-10 years or so (ahem).  

There are some marked stylistic differences along generational lines. A lot of the newer folks are making work that reminds me a lot of mid century modern sensibilities in that they're embracing the materials (hello speckled clay!) but they haven't had a chance to work out good handles yet, and sometimes I wonder about their chemistry choices. They tend to be very well presented, with well thought out and creative displays, logos and nice business cards. They promote a lot on Instagram and other social media, using it very deftly. They're also collaborating a lot with other businesses and taking advantage of networking opportunities outside an arts or crafts arena. Local fancy coffee shop opens? Of course they need a couple dozen Modernist handmade mugs to go with that!  There's someone down at this cute little workspace who can fill that order for you, probably for a good price! The newer kids are still building their audiences and working out of cooperative studios, so their output, and therefore takehome,  isn't necessarially huge. They do pots as a side gig, or as part of another form of practice. Most aspire to eventually quit their day jobs and do pots instead. They're still figuring a lot of things out, but they're out there doing it. 

The middle ground are folks that have been working for 5 years or more, and have developed a more personal voice. The diversity of work in this group is quite wonderful, from clean elegant minimalist lines, to individually modeled animal mugs that come with adoption certificates, to gold lustre embellished porcelain vases with elaborate cutouts, to some serious horror vaccui and lush colour-overloaded fabric imprint work..it goes on. This group has found their audience, and they are catering to them shamelessly. This group has active social media presences and often have newsletters, although usage of the latter may vary. Branding is in various states of completion with some having tighter presentations than others. They all have websites, but tend to sell more in person. They've got divirsified income streams: some wholesale, some consignment, some online, a lot of the show circuit. Surprisingly, not too many teach: no time or not enough space. They will say no to the weird requests that are clearly out of their range (No, I will not paint an infinity sign and the word "tag" in the bottom of a one of a kind mug!), and they will charge prices that represent their professional skill without apology. No more making 2 dozen cups with the coffee shop's logo on it for $250. Many of us got a leg up from a particular craft show that, during the last boom, acted as an incubator and community builder. A lot of creative businesses were able to get going, and a very "community over competition" environment came out of that time and place. We have spent the last few years finding and nurturing our audiences, most have quit the day jobs they didn't want, and incomes are getting into the "paying the bills" range. Nothing too extravagant, but we can say we pay taxes.  Some of the folks who are more in the 10 year range are trying to limit the number of shows that they do in a year, as the overhead can really eat into your profit margins, and they're straight up a lot of physical labour. The in person shows have allowed them to build their audiences, but doing every last 2 day weekend market no longer appeals. It has taken a lot of hard work and a long time to get to this point. 

The older folks are definitely identifiable: They tend to have either a blue/green pallette or a brown/amber one. You can find all your garlic graters, utensil jars and brie bakers with these good folks, probably for a lot less money than the 40 year olds are charging, if the 40 year olds even have that item. They also have a handful of "statement" pieces that compliment the more everyday items: these will cost more than any one item the 40 year olds have in their entire booth. They have huge booth displays made from iffy looking plywood that offer wide variety of well made and tested items, their glazes have stood the test of time, and they're the ones taking orders for dinnerware sets and have waiting lists for such things. They have return customers who have been collecting them for years, and those customers are starting to buy for their adult kids now. They have no social media, and might have a website, but only because someone expects them to. Certainly no online sales. I have no idea how they handle marketing because they're too busy to talk to me while we're at sales together. Some of them are beginning to retire, though. The show organizers are aware of this, and they're trying to nudge some of the middle and younger group into position to take over once they're gone. 

My takeaway from all of this is that in the current environment, pottery is something you work into as a career: you can't just jump in and hope you're profitable in the first few years. If a regular business can be expected to pull profit in the first 3-5 years, pottery seems to take 5-8 to get established. In some ways I think this can be a blessing though, because there's more time to figure out a style that you like AND sells. Building a business is a lot to figure out, and if Americans think there's few statistics on art or craft incomes to try and make a business plan with, there are even fewer north of the border. I am winging this based on personal experience, and what my community is willing to share with me. Thank All That Is for them. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

Welcome to my next novel! Thank you in advance for reading :)

In my area I'm seeing a lot of the older production potters retire, but they're being replaced by some young new eager folks in their 20's, and there's a middle contingent of people who have started building businesses in the last 5-10 years or so (ahem).  

There are some marked stylistic differences along generational lines. A lot of the newer folks are making work that reminds me a lot of mid century modern sensibilities in that they're embracing the materials (hello speckled clay!) but they haven't had a chance to work out good handles yet, and sometimes I wonder about their chemistry choices. They tend to be very well presented, with well thought out and creative displays, logos and nice business cards. They promote a lot on Instagram and other social media, using it very deftly. They're also collaborating a lot with other businesses and taking advantage of networking opportunities outside an arts or crafts arena. Local fancy coffee shop opens? Of course they need a couple dozen Modernist handmade mugs to go with that!  There's someone down at this cute little workspace who can fill that order for you, probably for a good price! The newer kids are still building their audiences and working out of cooperative studios, so their output, and therefore takehome,  isn't necessarially huge. They do pots as a side gig, or as part of another form of practice. Most aspire to eventually quit their day jobs and do pots instead. They're still figuring a lot of things out, but they're out there doing it. 

The middle ground are folks that have been working for 5 years or more, and have developed a more personal voice. The diversity of work in this group is quite wonderful, from clean elegant minimalist lines, to individually modeled animal mugs that come with adoption certificates, to gold lustre embellished porcelain vases with elaborate cutouts, to some serious horror vaccui and lush colour-overloaded fabric imprint work..it goes on. This group has found their audience, and they are catering to them shamelessly. This group has active social media presences and often have newsletters, although usage of the latter may vary. Branding is in various states of completion with some having tighter presentations than others. They all have websites, but tend to sell more in person. They've got divirsified income streams: some wholesale, some consignment, some online, a lot of the show circuit. Surprisingly, not too many teach: no time or not enough space. They will say no to the weird requests that are clearly out of their range (No, I will not paint an infinity sign and the word "tag" in the bottom of a one of a kind mug!), and they will charge prices that represent their professional skill without apology. No more making 2 dozen cups with the coffee shop's logo on it for $250. Many of us got a leg up from a particular craft show that, during the last boom, acted as an incubator and community builder. A lot of creative businesses were able to get going, and a very "community over competition" environment came out of that time and place. We have spent the last few years finding and nurturing our audiences, most have quit the day jobs they didn't want, and incomes are getting into the "paying the bills" range. Nothing too extravagant, but we can say we pay taxes.  Some of the folks who are more in the 10 year range are trying to limit the number of shows that they do in a year, as the overhead can really eat into your profit margins, and they're straight up a lot of physical labour. The in person shows have allowed them to build their audiences, but doing every last 2 day weekend market no longer appeals. It has taken a lot of hard work and a long time to get to this point. 

The older folks are definitely identifiable: They tend to have either a blue/green pallette or a brown/amber one. You can find all your garlic graters, utensil jars and brie bakers with these good folks, probably for a lot less money than the 40 year olds are charging, if the 40 year olds even have that item. They also have a handful of "statement" pieces that compliment the more everyday items: these will cost more than any one item the 40 year olds have in their entire booth. They have huge booth displays made from iffy looking plywood that offer wide variety of well made and tested items, their glazes have stood the test of time, and they're the ones taking orders for dinnerware sets and have waiting lists for such things. They have return customers who have been collecting them for years, and those customers are starting to buy for their adult kids now. They have no social media, and might have a website, but only because someone expects them to. Certainly no online sales. I have no idea how they handle marketing because they're too busy to talk to me while we're at sales together. Some of them are beginning to retire, though. The show organizers are aware of this, and they're trying to nudge some of the middle and younger group into position to take over once they're gone. 

My takeaway from all of this is that in the current environment, pottery is something you work into as a career: you can't just jump in and hope you're profitable in the first few years. If a regular business can be expected to pull profit in the first 3-5 years, pottery seems to take 5-8 to get established. In some ways I think this can be a blessing though, because there's more time to figure out a style that you like AND sells. Building a business is a lot to figure out, and if Americans think there's few statistics on art or craft incomes to try and make a business plan with, there are even fewer north of the border. I am winging this based on personal experience, and what my community is willing to share with me. Thank All That Is for them. 

Love this Callie.  Next time we meet for coffee we can continue this thread.  I have not been making pots nearly as long as some on this forum, but I fall in that "5 years or more" group.  I truly feel, at least in my selling area, that handmade is still rockin' it.  If you have a style and you know who your fanbase it, and you are willing to market to that fanbase, (whatever their age may be) you sell.  I see younger potters stepping into the market, but as Callie pointed out, the model will look different from what Mark has.  I hope there will be potters that make dinner sets in the future, as that is what I see falling away.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe what you are really seeing Mark is that the dynamics of pottery being a full time career is changing and the 'how' is different. It is really expensive to do shows out of the area and even large metros only have so many local shows. You can easily rack up $12-1500 in cost to do a run of the mill show with a few hundred in booth fee out of town and a new potter could hit a string of bad shows and be out 5-6 grand real fast. Maybe that reality (or even the a possibility of it) is causing more and more potters to try different approaches that is tilted away from what you generally notice. 

Edited by Stephen
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/16/2019 at 11:59 AM, Mark C. said:

Folks looking for dinnerware and a line of functional ware have few choices.

Mark---do you know this couple? This video by Cindy Ripley is right in keeping with the discussion. Gorgeous dinnerware and a business scope and sensibility that seems similar to yours. Curtis Ripley was my ceramics instructor for 3 years, at VCU School of the Arts. He  taught me the wonders of making clay and formulating glazes (huge gas kiln), much ceramic art history (with a sub-focus on Pueblo/Maria Martinez)  and instilled in me a lasting appreciation...which is why, when I retired, I got my head, heart, and hands right back into it, however modest in scale.  They left Virginia for California in the 80's and established Luna Garcia, in Venice Beach. They closed just a few years ago.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

No I do not know them, Venice is about a 12 plus hour drive south to southern Cal.I have not run across them at shows I do. This state is about 18 hours drive long so the southern part are like another country for me up in the far north.

Most of The potters I know fire with gas kilns and not electrics as well.

Nice video-thanks for that.Looks like they had a wholesale line as well.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.