Tama Smith is the founder and owner of Prairie Fire Pottery in Beach, ND. Her production studio is 1 mile off Interstate 94, just before the Montana boarder. We met years ago, when I was traveling west to ski Red Lodge Mountain in Montana. During this year’s NCECA in Milwaukee, we randomly reconnected at a small, Armenian restaurant.
“Hey Joel! Great to see you! I’ve been following your blog. When are you going to come work at my studio?”
The conversation continued with a quick facebook message a week later…
“You should come work in my studio a bit…what say ye? Come make your work and fire in my kiln and we’ll sell it in the gallery. We have a bungalow where you could sleep, cook and shower.”
Last Tuesday, I drove 7 hours west for a 2 week stint to throw pots and learn about the thriving studio Tama has built in Beach, ND.
Tama’s crew consists of her husband, family, friends, visiting artists and production potters. Collectively, they operate a thriving gallery, production pottery studio and online store. “People thought we were crazy to set up in Beach, ND.” says Tama’s husband, Jerry: “Our philosophy was, ‘Go where they ain’t.’ I-94 is like a river. 3 million people drive past us each year, and we’ve become a magnet, drawing people in.”
The best part of this experience is being in a thriving studio at peak production, making 7-8,000 pots per year. The studio, storage and gallery shelves are jam packed with pots. Again, Jerry shares his experience of how decades of hard work has led to success: “It’s like feast or famine around here. We’re getting ready for the summer feast. In 1 month the gallery will be packed and we’ll need extra help just to keep up with sales.”
Most of my days are spent on the wheel, throwing hundreds of pots that Tama will glaze, fire and sell in the gallery. Our collaboration also reaches into wet clay work, where Tama trims and decorates some of my forms. Here are some process shots that show our collaboration, shots of the Prairie Fire Pottery gallery, studio and cats: