[Clayart] where have all the potters gone/long

KATHI LESUEUR kathi at lesueurclaywork.com
Wed Mar 26 23:08:48 EDT 2014

On Mar 26, 2014, at 5:28 PM, mel jacobson wrote:

> i have been thinking about this for now ten years.
> it is a very important subject.
> it has many answers.
> i don't need anything.
> supply and demand.

I've been thinking about this for many years, also. It is really a simple question with complex answers. 

First, why has demand dried up. I don't think it has. But, the sector who did most of the buying in the art fair boom has been greatly diminished. Consider this: In 1969 I went to work at GM on the line building cars while I established Michigan residency. In that one year I made over $13,000. An auto worker at that time made enough money to buy a home, a new car every several years, a cabin up north, and definitely the kids were going to college. They had money to burn and their wives burned it  buying pots.  Here we are forty years later. Those workers pay has not kept pace with expenses. They don't have money to burn. The middle class is mostly gone. Art is a luxury they can't afford. 

Second, where does someone learn to make pots? I've attended two NCECA's before this year. The first was in the '70's in Ann Arbor. That was all about making pots. The second was in the '80's in San Antonio. That was all about making "art". One presenter from a large university bragged that he threw out all of the wheels to keep students from making that crap. And yet, where did all of the icons start. No matter where their work eventually landed, almost all started out as pretty traditional potters. My Glenn Nelson and Daniel Rhodes books both have pictures of Pete Voukos, Val Cushing, and others with teapots, vase, jars. Would any of them get recognition if they were starting out today. Or would the universities be saying their work was traditional crap. Making pots was the foundation that helped them understand clay. That foundation holds little value anymore at the university level. 

So, how about apprenticeships. I knew a number of really good functional potters in the '80's and '90's who had apprentices. They stopped when art fair applications started adding a line that said, "those with employees or apprentices need not apply". The tradition is all but dead.

We heard lots at NCECA about programs at high school and college levels being dropped. But, one of the most interesting conversations I had was with Jeff Weiland.  As he talked about his program and facilities, the number and kinds of kilns he had, the number of wheels he had, others at the table drooled. Yet, no one asked how he managed to have so great a program. I'd love to see him speak at NCECA about how his program grew. I would imagine that his classes are so in demand that no administrator would dare cut him. 

Demand. The demand for pots is gone. I don't believe it for a minute. But, how you find and meet that demand has changed. When I started art fairs were king. An easy, cheap way to sell your product. Those days are gone. Art fairs are expense to do and the good ones severely limit the number of potters. The sales at most suck. In 1979 if you asked a potter what was a good show, they'd say " a thousand dollars a day". In 2014 they still say "a thousand dollars a day".  Mel sells everything he makes. Colleen sells everything she makes. They've figured out what their customers want and how to get it to them. At NCECA I saw lots of pots that I really liked. Lots of shinos, lots of what I call "potter's glazes. Hate to tell you this, but the average pottery buyer doesn't  buy shinos, or temmoku or carbon trap. The trick is to make pots that both you and the public like. Where to sell it? I'm blown away by the number of pots sold on Etsy.com and you can bet that by the end of the year I'll have an Etsy store. If you'd told me ten years ago that people would but a pot without picking it up I'd have said you were nuts. I'd have been wrong. 

I think the demand is out there, and there are lots of people making pots who would love to go full time. It can be done. But, learning how to do it isn't easy.


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