The Successful Potter: A Collective Model
The impulse that is at the heart of every potter is to play with clay. This seminal desire to immerse oneself in one’s medium fuels the creative process but does little to guide the artist toward a sustainable way of living. Teaching and marketing are the usual solutions, but often become as time-consuming as the art they serve. Lisa Howard, a Boston area potter, over three decades of creating, has succeeded in incorporating these necessary tasks into an organic model based on a strong community of makers and buyers. Her local pottery studio + gallery is a nexus in the Boston area for artists to display and sell their work, for students to perfect their skills, and for clients to expand their collections and increase their knowledge of the arts.
Howard, for the most part, is a self-taught potter. She took ceramics classes in college but did not complete a degree. “I don’t sit still very well,” she quips. She took classes at Radcliffe College and worked out of its studio for a time. She met other local artists and became part of a community. She says, “Whatever I’m in the mood to do, I do.” It was this can-do enthusiasm that led her to found her own studio in 1996 at the age of 24 in the South Shore town of Pembroke, Massachusetts. She says she learned by doing – how to make better pots, how to teach, and how to be a better businessperson. She offered classes right away, set up a gallery, and invited other artists to offer their work. Soon she invited other artists to join her in a Christmas Sale.
By 2014, local potter studio + gallery had amassed over sixty artists who show and sell with Howard. Studio classes had long waiting lists and the Christmas Sale had become a well-anticipated community and area event. Howard began to look for new space for an expansion. Just north of Pembroke, in Norwell, she found a piece of property that had originally been a farmer’s fruit stand. A developer started a commercial plaza with Cape-style buildings arranged around a central garden andlater sold to a landscaper who also opened a garden center. Howard acquired one of the buildings which offered over 4,000 square feet, double the space in Pembroke. The location is central to many communities between Boston, Worcester, and Providence. Howard says, “The owner had been using the building for storage. We opened the door and found an old dune buggy! We had to do a complete build out.” The finished space has beautiful hand-hewn beams, a downstairs making space for Howard, and a beautiful garden that is perfect for outdoor events. Most important is the expansive gallery and store, to accommodate all the artists that Howard represents.
Howard says that the educated and affluent local community was a strong factor in her success. The demand for art education is high and residents care about the arts. Many artists live in the area. Even so, she suggests that this model will work in other socioeconomic areas. “I see more people starting to use this model now,” she says. “It’s a comprehensive way of building a healthy business eco-system. The teaching feeds the retail.” By educating the community through classes, the studio builds a clientele. By incorporating sales, both retail and wholesale, Howard can shift the focus of the business based on current economic conditions.
Howard’s focus on a cohesive community is an ethos that is reflected in her creative work. She focuses on functional pottery, specifically dinnerware. “I love to eat,” she says. “I love to cook.
My work is a place where you get fed on so many levels.” As a young woman, Howard explored the slow food movement and was vegetarian for a while. “I’m very political about food,” she explains. My work is a political choice in a way, political in terms of my role in the society in which I live. It is something I can do to contribute to my community.” She sees herself as part of a continuum that begins with care for the land, care for our food, care for our bodies, and ends with a meal served on “incredible pieces of pottery.” “The Japanese say that you eat first with your eyes,” she says. “I see the history of craft and the history of ceramics all ending up on that plate or that cup.”
Howard applies this philosophy to her role as businessperson. She says she is not looking for the quick sale. “The great thing about the new space is that it draws people in. They say, ‘What is this place?’ I know as soon as they come in the building, I will have them as a customer for life.” She takes time to help them build a unique collection. She encourages them to “go slowly,” never to choose a full dinner pattern for twelve all at one time.
As the number of students and customers at the new location has swelled over the last decade, the popular Christmas sale that started everything has transformed into giant summer barbeque that makes use of the garden space. The community brings homemade desserts and more people than ever continue to come. For the young woman who doesn’t sit still very well and does whatever she feels like doing, local pottery studio + gallery is quite an accomplishment and worth a visit for anyone in the Boston area.
Learn more about local pottery studio + gallery at www.localpottery.com