Not Your Typical Cold Call: An Inspiring Conversation with an Elder Potter

Last Wednesday afternoon I was attaching some handles to mugs and I got a strange call from a number in New Hampshire. Normally I let out-of-state calls go to voicemail because it’s often spam. For some reason I decided to wipe the clay off my hands and pick up.

The man on the line was Bruce Dix. He was Google searching a potter named, “Hong Jae Pyo” and he discovered my work. He asked, “Have you ever met this guy? Did you host him at your studio?” I said, “Bruce I don’t really have a studio, today I’m making pottery in my 3rd floor apartment. I’m only 25, I got the pictures of Hong Jae Pyo from a friend and just put them on my facebook.” Then Bruce said, “Oh so you’re a young guy, huh? Well I’m 65 and I’ve been a potter my whole life. I’ve gotta give you some advice while I’ve got you on the phone.”

This was the start of an hour long conversation about Bruce’s life as a potter.

The internet is so crazy. Hong Jae Pyo was a Korean potter practicing Yi Dynasty ceramics, and he toured the U.S. in the late 80’s. My only relation to him was by posting 2 images of his work on my Facebook page, because I’m really interested in his Copper Red glazes…we’ve never met, we’re not “tagged” together in any pictures. I simply typed “Hong Jae Pyo” as the image description and it was enough for Bruce to find him in Google, find my phone number on my website, and shoot me a call.

Hong Jae Pyo, Pottery Throwing Demonstration, photo by Kenneth Furber    Hong Jae Pyo, Pottery Throwing Demonstration, photo by Kenneth Furber, 2

Bruce went on to describe the time he spent with Hong Jae Pyo and 2 other Korean potters that were on tour with him.

“They were traveling to colleges to give demonstrations, eating Coke and Pizza, I could tell that they were really uncomfortable. They lived in small Korean villages with locally grown, good food. I invited them back to my place and cooked them a feast.”

Bruce went on about the potters. “I had porcelain, stoneware, and terra cotta. Each potter used a different clay and we made pots for days. They spent time by the ocean, walked around outside, away from the city. They were really humble, nice people.”

Our conversation shifted to Bruce’s life and his desire to give me advice. I don’t remember everything he said word for word, but here’s what I took away from our conversation:

Pottery Insurance

“Take your best piece from each firing – the jewel – and put it in a box. In 20 years, you’ll have a show of these pots in New York City, sell $100,000 and be able to retire. Plus, you can pull these pieces out from time to time for inspiration. It shouldn’t be hard to keep from selling these pots right away. You have family heirlooms, you don’t try to sell these, right?”

$0.25 Mugs

“When I was your age, I sold my mugs for 25 cents each. If you can get $25 per mug then you’re doing great, keep going!”

No Art Festivals

Bruce never did a single craft fair.

Word-of-Mouth

“Eventually all of your customers will come to you, it just takes time- years and years. Try unconventional ways to sell your pots. Call one of the big banks in your city and politely ask to speak with someone in charge of marketing and corporate gifts. Put on a white, clean shirt, white pants, and bring them some of your pots.”

Colleagues, Not Competitors

“You should never have competitors, you’re never competing against other potters. Find the potters that you have similarities with and spend your time with these potters.”

Ignore Criticism

“As your career builds, you’ll start to get a lot more criticism. Ignore people who criticize your work. Don’t let it bring you down, just go find like-minded potters.”

———————————————————————————————-

You won’t find Bruce’s work online, he’s not interested in giving up privacy to get his pots out into the world.

Special thanks to Ken Ferber for originally sharing the images of Kong Jae Pyo that he snapped during a 1988 workshop. Ken let me photograph his images, as well as sections of a book that he bought during the workshop.

Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, www.cherricopottery.com 01    Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, www.cherricopottery.com 02 Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, www.cherricopottery.com 03      Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, www.cherricopottery.com 04 Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, www.cherricopottery.com 05     Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, www.cherricopottery.com 10

9 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this really cool story. To think you almost let the phone call go to voice mail. You just never know where you’re going to find that inspiration and encouragement. (And I’m including myself as a photographer getting that encouragement from you!)
    ~Barb

  2. Love your pottery, love good copper red glazes. and really like your inclusion of the Hendricks article. Thank you.

  3. Hendrix…haha thanks Bertha! This blog has been a lot of fun and I’m always looking for more ideas to write about, shoot me an idea if you think of any!

  4. Joel,

    I studied pottery under Hong Jae Pyo (otherwise known as To-Jeong) and his son back in 1991. It was a fantastic experience. My late uncle was a good friend and regular buyer of his work. Email anytime if you’d like to hear more.

    Jason

    1. Hello Jason,

      Thank you very much for the message. I’m totally jealous of your experience. The few photos that I have seen of his Copper Red pottery just blows me away. Do you own any of his Copper Reds? Have you experimented with any Copper Red woodfiring of your own?

      Joel

      1. I don’t personally own any. But my mom does, along with several other non-copper red pieces. As you can imagine, his work is/was very expensive. One of the pieces my mom has would normally have sold for ~$8000 back in the early 90’s. As for me, I’m a scientist by career, but have been doing pottery as a hobby on and off for ~25 years. After studying with Hong Jae Pyo, I spent a good amount of time in copper reds in a gas kiln at a shared facility, but have never had a chance to build my own studio. He used to call his copper red “flying red” because of the way it would seem to fly around the pots.

        1. “Flying red” I love it! Well I hope you get a chance to revisit pottery in your later years. Nice to meet you Jason. Please let me know if you ever hear about To-Jeong coming to the U.S.

          Joel

  5. My partner and I abotlusely love your blog and find the majority of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome website!

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