Wow! 20 years ago. How much has changed. I was working at UNCA as an Assistant Director with a 4 year old. My husband and I didn’t have excess income to start a business and loosing the income and security from working at the University wasn’t exactly appealing. But a Dream keeps nagging at a person and continuing in Higher Education was loosing it’s charm.
I started taking pottery classes at UNCA when our son was a year old during my limited spare time–After working more than a 40 hour week job, while attempting to keep my family a priority. It wasn’t easy. I’m still not sure how we managed.
At the end of each semester, the Art Department had a pottery sale, where students could sell their creations. That is how I bought my first equipment. I bought a used potters wheel first for $300. I still use that wheel. After a couple of more sales I bought my first kiln. And then for my birthday, my husband bought me an extruder. And that is all of the equipment I had when I first started.
We had about 200 square feet in our basement that I stole from my husbands woodworking space. I made pots in my spare time while still working full-time at UNCA. When I just couldn’t do all of this anymore, I took “the leap of faith”. I went part-time at UNCA. It was a humbling experience to say the least. I had to accept a much lower statis position. I wasn’t included in the same circle of colleagues or decision making meetings. I directly observed someone taking over my previous position and making it her own, while I sat in a gold fish bowl office working below my potential. That may sound elitest. But I worked hard to get into this career. Seven years in college. Working to pay for my way through graduate school. 300 people applied for my Assistant Director Position. I was 3 days from giving birth to our son when I participated in the all day interviewing process for this position. I started working in this position 6 weeks after I had our son. So, yes. There was a lot of sacrifice to finally earn this Assistant Director Position. So letting the position go for a dream wasn’t easy. I lasted in my part-time job for a year and a half and finally left university life for good.
Saying the words “I’m a potter”, didn’t come easy because I didn’t think I was qualified to use those words. But you keep practicing it until you believe it.
I started picking up galleries to carry my work and I did more craft shows than I ever want to think about. One quick note about folks who do craft shows. It’s a hard life. Up in the middle of the night to get to a show and set up before 9 a.m. Work in rain, snow, wind, heat– I’ve done it all. Never knowing if you will make enough money to make it worth the effort. And when the weekend show is over, unload your truck on Monday, start making more pieces and do it again next weekend.
None of this was done alone. My incredible husband made huge sacrifices too. Didn’t have a wife around as much as he would hope. Fixed kilns, built shelves and display booths, worked shows and did more than his share of work at home. Our son grew up going to many craft shows too. And then there were the other crafters and potters specifically that shared valuable information freely to help us on our way. Most recently, Alan and Nancy Stegall of Stegall Pottery in Erwin, Tennessee. They taught us trade secrets that boosted our business greatly.
Soooo 20 years into it, was it worth it? I’d say, “yes”. Has it been easy? No. Have we been blessed over and over again? Yes. When I question, “how is this going to work out,” did it? Yes. Were their people who helped us out of the goodness of their hearts? Yes. Were their people who took advantage of our kindness and didn’t comprehend what it took to get here? Yes. Is it for everyone? No. Some people need to have ownership for what they do. I was one of those. For me, this came only through hard work and sacrifice with a business I could call mine. I would think that is how it comes for most.
What’s in our future? Our first commercial facility outside of our home. A few great employees to move us forward. Randy, my husband, joining the team as his full-time job. And in 15 to 20 years we pass it on to someone else so they can begin their own adventure in clay and as business owner.