Central Vermont Draws Community Of Ceramicists
Randolph’s Stephanie Tyler hadn’t planned on making a career path out of pottery when she started marketing her work in 2010.
Instead of merely looking for a local niche, she crafted one for herself.
Tyler, 32, became involved with all ends of the operation, producing ceramics, selling, and building her own customer base; she launched Art of Vermont on Main Street in Randolph as a venue for artists and now teaches lessons to both youth and adults.
“Before [Art of Vermont], all these people were just off in their own studios doing their thing,” Tyler said. “And unless you have to drive by their house, you might not necessarily know it’s there. I felt like there needed to be a place for people to sell their stuff here in Randolph.”
Tyler, a mother of two, can’t yet support herself solely off pottery; she also works as a para-educator at the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union preschool in Randolph.
Nevertheless, she feels she has found success. Tyler’s Third Branch Pottery studio will hold five classes this year, the most ever.
She is increasing production of her own work, making functional ceramics, typically softly curved vessels left partly unglazed. Tyler still sells at Art of Vermont, as well as online. (She stepped away from managing the store to have her second child.)
She’s found herself part of a burgeoning local pottery community in the White River Valley.
A Winding Path
Tyler stumbled into a career in pottery. She had little interest in art growing up in South Auburn, Penna. and never took art classes in high school. Tyler majored in Latin American studies, German, and education at Juniata College with the aim of teaching German or working abroad.
She didn’t throw her first pot until she took a ceramics class after graduating from college in 2006.
Pottery, she said, “just clicked.
“Pottery is one of the few arts, where your hands are your tools. There’s something about getting muddy and having your hands touch and create the piece that is really satisfying.”
She’s kept at it.
After the birth of her first child, Melina, in 2010, Tyler bought a cheap kiln off craigslist and started selling her work on Etsy and at Chef’s Market.
Her mugs, and her pieces under $50 sell best, she said.
Her signature style? She glazes leaving parts of the piece bare, to “show off the natural beauty of the clay.
“I just put it on the shelf and people want to buy it,” she said with a laugh.
Student to Teacher
Already, Tyler’s seen her efforts multiplied.
She has hired Lisa McCrory, a Bethel farmer and former pottery student, to teach a beginner adult wheel class. Three years ago, when McCrory’s homeschooled son starting taking a class with Tyler, she joined in as well.
“I got hooked,” McCrory said. “My boys have since moved on to other things and I’m still doing pottery.”
A year and a half ago, after Mc- Crory, 52, had filled her own cupboards with her work, she started displaying her pottery at the farm store where she sells her produce. She labeled her work with a sign: “Make an offer—help Lisa support her addiction.”
McCrory pays Tyler a studio membership to use her space on Weston Street and accepts commissions for her work, as well as selling from her farm store.
She’s building up her inventory to start selling at craft fairs and planning to build her own home studio.
Now, Tyler and she are co-workers at Third Branch.
“I’m always learning about clay, always learning about glazes and the kiln,” though now, Tyler “has become a sounding board” rather a teacher, McCrory said.
A cluster of potters has sprung up in the White River Valley.
The potters say there’s no obvious reason that such a group would establish themselves in central Vermont; there’s no notable local clay sources or large venue for wares.
Nevertheless, there are at least six potters in Bethel alone: Husband wife teams Nathan and Becca Webb and Evan Williams and Grace Pejouhy each create using wood-fired kilns. Andrea Trzaskos runs Frog Song Pottery and Lisa McCrory sells from her farm stand.
Chris Vernon runs Blackbird Studio out of Chelsea, and in Randolph, Abby Tonks recently opened up her own studio on Hospital Hill.
Jenny Hord operates Cat’s Eye Pottery from her farm in West Brookfield.
Still, the proliferation of potters is “only a benefit,” said Becca Webb. “We talk to each other, help each other get materials, tell each other about open studio events,” she said.
The Webbs, who market their own wood-fired ceramics under the name Two Potters, sell from their home studio, online, and at Art of Vermont.
When McCrory said she was considering constructing a studio, they stopped by to give her advice on the location and logistics. When visitors come by on open studio tours, the Webbs urge them to see the work of Evan Williams and Grace Pejouhy as well.
“Everyone has such a different style; we’re not competitive,” Becca Webb said.
There is a market in central Vermont, Tyler said. “A lot of people in Randolph value handmade stuff and want to support local art and business. They use it for a really long time,” she said.
At Art of Vermont, artists have seen that theory at work, said Melanie Considine, who co-founded the shop with Tyler and now runs the operation.
“Our sales correspond, correlate with how close by [the artist is to the store],” Considine said, noting that Tyler’s work sells well.
“The customers know the local base and they love supporting them.”
When local support isn’t enough for artists, the internet helps; most potters use Facebook and some sell their work on Etsy or do wedding registries.
In fact, Vermont potters are hard-pressed to sell solely to local clientèle, said Evan Williams. He and Pejouhy both have other jobs beyond their work as potters.
The internet may also have increased demand for products made locally, he hypothesized.
“Because people are living such a digital and manufactured lifestyle, they’re feeling a desire for something that’s handmade and real,” he said. “I’ve seen that grow over the past decade.”
Tyler’s seen similar results with the students she teaches.
Since she started teaching in 2013, Tyler has seen both adults and students come away with a greater sense of the value of art and the commitment pottery requires.
“When people are more hands-on and have a sense of creation, people have more appreciation for things that are created,” Tyler said.
It makes for a broadening customer base and art community, she added.
“They see and appreciate how much work goes into it.”
(This first appeared in the Herald of Randolph Sept. 29, 2016)