Charity events, silent auctions and raffle ticket fundraisers can be great ways to raise money for worthy causes. People ask us to donate pottery to their charity events regularly. They’ve been asking for years, and I used to say yes every time.
But a few years ago, I started saying no.
It’s not because we get too many requests. Even if we donated one pot per week, that’s only 52 pots per year, out of the 6,000+ pots we made last year.
It’s not because people don’t want the art. People might not bid the full $165 retail price for a Cosmic Mug at a charity auction, but it would definitely help raise some money.
There is one main reason why I don’t donate art.
I believe people should support artists, not ask them for free art.
Put yourself in the shoes of an artist. Which would you rather have someone say to you:
“Donate to our event please. It will support a good cause and get your name out there.”
“I just bought your art!”
If I donate my art to charity, then it tells the charity that it’s okay to ask other artists for free stuff too. That’s the problem.
Too many artists struggle to sell their art for what it’s worth. I believe artists are some of the last people in society that we should be asking for donations. You would never ask a doctor, lawyer or banker to donate their work to a silent auction.
Instead of donating pottery, we just let our pottery be available for sale on store.cherricopottery.com, cosmicmugs.com and to our Patrons. Then, we donate a portion of the money to charities that we care about, and keep a public record here, to help keep us accountable:
You shouldn’t donate to every charity who contacts you. We don’t, because that would be impossible. Every time I mention donations, we tend to get a flood of requests.
Just this week, another person emailed us asking us to donate pottery to an event for their son, a 10 year old boy who is fighting cancer.
Stores like this are so sad. Of course it makes me want to donate! But giving art and/or money to everyone who asks isn’t sustainable. Business, like everything, requires balance (I told them we can’t donate pottery, but we’re happy to donate some cash instead.)
It’s not important to donate to everyone who asks. What’s important is that you stay open to the idea of supporting charities, and actually do it consistently.
We simply pick a few good causes, and then make sure we’re giving consistently. Then, when we have stronger sales or another good cause comes to our attention, we can give a little more.
Society works best when we all make an extra effort to be of service to others. Donating money might not be the best way to solve problems, but it helps, and it’s our way of giving back beyond just making art.
This is a guest blog post written by Aubrey Walter, student worker at Cherrico Pottery during her undergraduate studies at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. This post is a reflection of her work in the pottery office, assessing our environmental impact of shipping pottery to thousands of people globally.Enter Aubrey:
“Save what you love. A river. A mountain. A jacket. A pair of hiking boots. It all matters because it’s all connected…there is a powerful connection between treating our things as disposable and treating the people who make those things as disposable. And there is also a connection between the way we trash our stuff and the way we are trashing the planet, which is the ultimate source of all of that stuff.”
– Naomi Klein, qtd. in “Let My People Go Surfing”
People often ask us, “Is Cherrico Pottery natural?”
Yes, clay comes from the ground. Yes, Joel mixes his custom glaze recipes from natural materials, like wood ash, feldspar and silica.
But the truth is, everything comes from the ground. Even the smartphone or computer you’re using to read this was made from raw materials, which were originally mined from the earth.
How to Serve Customers and the Environment
At the time of this writing, Joel is currently throwing, glazing and firing over 500 pots per month. About 90% of those ship directly to customers’ doorsteps just weeks after he makes them.
How do we properly serve these avid pottery buyers, while still having deep respect for our environmental impact? First, we look to companies that have successfully achieved this themselves.
Every month, Joel requires each member of our team (including himself) to conduct “Reading and Research” to help us all learn the best ways to grow Cherrico Pottery, and ourselves personally. We read books, watch TED Talks, and post our quotes in the pottery office wall.
Recently, I’ve been reading Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia. A passionate outdoorsman, Yvon was hesitant to turn his passion into a business, weary of corporations focusing on profit and production, often destroying the very environment he grew up enjoying.
But Yvon took on this challenge with the founding of Patagonia, breaking the rules of traditional business and committing wholeheartedly to environmental responsibility.
As Yvon writes in the introduction to the book,
“Despite a near-universal consensus among scientists that we are on the brink of an environmental collapse, our society lacks the will to take action. Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible business.”
During my time as a student worker at Cherrico Pottery, I’ve seen Joel and Sienna make these same commitments to environmental responsibility.
We use 100% biodegradable packing peanuts to ensure our pottery arrives safe and sound to our customers. These peanuts are made from an organic starch that will decompose in water, leaving no toxic waste.
But not everyone wants peanuts because they make a huge mess. They’ve even been banned by Amazon because they’re so inconvenient and messy. So, we’re experimenting with our new “EA Air Cushion Machine”, which allows us to make our own bubble wrap and pillows with a #2 recyclable film.
Doing More With Less
As we said before, everything comes from the earth. Every material has pros and cons. For example, paper is a renewable resource and biodegrades, but it requires a lot more more raw materials to produce than plastic. It’s heaver to ship, less protective for our fragile pottery (requiring more material) and cutting down more trees to make more paper isn’t a great solution.
Whether using paper, plastic or biodegradable starch, the most important thing is that you make an educated decision about what to use, and how much.
This TedTalk featuring Leyla Acaroglu has given us a framework, called a “Life Cycle Assessment” to look past environmental folklore and determine how we can make the biggest positive impact.
Tracing Our Trash
Once our materials are used, where do they go?
We are also evaluating our footprint as a business by tracing each item of waste. As you can imagine in a small business that ships globally, we need to consume a lot of materials.
But even small things, like our shipping labels and packing stickers, are destined for the trash.
Stickers and shipping labels cannot be recycled due to their adhesive contents that get caught in recycling equipment. Their waxy backing is made of layers of both non-recyclable plastic and paper.
The thin, jute twine that we use to package our pottery is 100% recyclable and biodegradable, but it comes wrapped in protective plastic that we cannot recycle. So does the bubblewrap and cardbaord bulk boxes on full 4ft. x 4ft. pallets- all entirely wrapped in non-recyclable plastic.
Each of these items, small and large, are essential. We couldn’t fulfill thousands of pottery orders, and maintain customer satisfaction and safety, without each of these necessary pieces to our puzzle of running a sustainable business.
How do we stay environmentally conscious, while embracing global demand for Cherrico Pottery?
Odd that #EarthDay exists as a day at all. Instead, maybe it should be extended to the whole year, and then repeated annually
We call porcelain “Fine China” because the Chinese are simply the best porcelain mass-producers in the world, specifically for this type of “Tenmoku” pottery. It’s a specific type of intricate, black glazed pottery that you can learn about here, that the Chinese have been refining for 1,000 years. They can make high quantities of these mugs with both higher efficiency and quality than anyone else in the world.
After they arrive, the Cherrico Pottery Team individually inspects each mug for quality, then giftwraps them in our hand painted, recyclable cardboard boxes.
But what do we do with all the excess packing materials from China?
Over the years, we’ve examined and fine-tuned our process. We’ve implemented alternatives to the waste-generating and single-use aspects of our business, wherever possible.
So, instead of putting non-recyclable packing materials in the trash, Joel came up with a better solution: dunnage.
Dunnage Bags: How We Reuse Non-Recyclable Packing Materials
We now turn most all of our trash into “Dunnage Bags” to be used as packing material, instead of peanuts or air pillows. We simply put our excess, non-recyclable packing into biodegradable bags from the local co-op.
While these bags still eventually end up in the landfill, they allow us to reduce and reuse:
Reduce our consumption of other packing materials
Reuse these non-recyclables, instead of throwing them right into the trash
Did you know that you can reuse these bags in your own packing?
We know that our environmental footprint as a business is far from net zero, far from where it needs to be. And we recognize this. We are conscious of the waste we produce, the environmental impact our small business is having.
While many companies turn a blind eye to their waste, their emissions, their footprint, we have not. And we will not. Because the nature of our business, Cherrico Pottery, is crafted from the very minerals of the soil and the water of the seas. Pottery is an art of the earth.
Kenneth R. Beittel describes it like this in his article Zen and the Art of Pottery:
“Pottery is the humblest of man’s arts. Even before it became metaphor, pottery brought Earth to shine forth in man’s world. It is best when it is most earth-honest; that includes process-honest; fire-honest, honesty of being itself. Mere expressiveness has no depth compared with rocks and mountains, sand and sea, which speak of being and presence.”
Innately, our pottery craft requires that we be earth-honest, process-honest, fire-honest. It requires that we are conscious of our environmental choices. While many companies maintain a “business as usual” approach when it comes to environmental responsibility, we are striving to defy the norm.
Think Globally, Act Locally
There is a saying at the Local Blend Coffee Shop that serves meals everyday from Cherrico Pottery. “Think Globally, Act Locally” is their unofficial tagline. It reminds us that even the smallest act, done by anyone just within their local community, can have global impact.
We’re continuing to have conversations about our own environmental impacts here at Cherrico. How can we be more sustainable? How can we be a model of environmental responsibility for other small businesses?
We’re learning a lot about your preferences as our customers, and are continuing to look for ways to consume less.
We’d love to hear from you.
GIVEAWAY: What is one thing you do to be more environmentally friendly in your own life?
*GIVEAWAY ENDED 3/25/20. WINNERS: Jessica and kim mendez. WINNERS WERE EMAILed PRIVATELY AND NOTIFIED, AND THEIR COMMENTS WERE RESPONDED TO BELOW.
Leave a comment on this blog post before 2pm Central Wednesday, March 25th, 2020 answering the question above (What is one thing you do to be more environmentally friendly?), and we will pick two people to win two free “Random Cosmic Mugs” from our back stock, each paired with two book copies from our “Reading and Research” shelves: Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. We’ll mail them to two of you for free (giveaway 21+ void where prohibited, no unicorns…view more detailed giveaway policy here: cherricopottery.com/giveaway-policy) winner will be chosen by Joel Cherrico and announced in the comments one day after the giveaway ends. Please allow 24-48 hours max for our moderator to approve your comment, and winners will be announced here publicly Friday, March 27th, 2 PM or earlier 🙂
This story is important for anyone who doesn’t see themselves as an “artist” but loves art.
It’s also important because Joel and Sienna Cherrico are doing incredible things beyond just making art. They’re great at knowledge work: trying to educate their audience, workers and everyone they come in contact with. Cherrico Pottery encourages people to come up with their own original ideas.
Being part of an artistic process in a professional business is unique. I was surrounded by art in daily life, but I could see the real impact happening in the lives of others– specifically, pottery customers and fans.
The blog post shares what I think are the most important lessons that Cherrico Pottery offers people, and how to create things that are truly original.
It all starts how and why Joel decided to start a pottery company.
How Cherrico Pottery Started: The College Years
Joel Cherrico started at The College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University studying Biology/Pre-Medicine in 2006. But after freshman year, he decided that he would rather try and figure out how to make a living as a full-time potter, and changed his major to Art.
He worked two years of unpaid internships at JD Jorgenson Pottery. According to Joel, this is what taught him first hand about the hard work, dedication and love involved in building a pottery studio. They built a 30ft ft. long wood kiln, filed it with pots and fired it.
Joel also worked at the college Ceramics Studio all four years, which gave him more experience with the technical aspects of ceramics, while supervising and teaching other students. Samuel Johnson was his college professor and a key mentor who guided Joel during this job.
Three months of working in the St. John’s Woodshop, also gave Joel woodworking experience, and wood to build pottery shelving that he still uses today (our “Pottery Office” cubicles are made from shelves Joel built). The first Cherrico Pottery sales came from filling those shelves with pots for sale in front of the student bus stop in 2009.
From College Student to Professional Potter
In 2014, the American Craft Council and Joel worked to create a web exclusive blog series called, “A Potter’s Journey.” This story reveals insights about how he developed a plan to become a full-time potter and small business owner during college, and then launched and built his passion into a profitable business.
What I find so interesting is that his art is serving people. Joel isn’t afraid to put himself into the public eye, like when he was interviewed by Guinness World Records. But what’s really important is that he found lessons that are worth sharing in a professional outlet like the American Craft Council.
My College Experience: Working in the Pottery Office
I started off knowing absolutely nothing about pottery or business. But in running a small business, you learn to do it all. We helped with writing, photography, packing and shipping, customer service, marketing, operations, and even figuring out how to sell pottery myself.
Our job was to keep Joel on the pottery wheel, and away from office work.
Basically, we had the freedom to do anything that got pottery into the hands of people anywhere on the planet.
Being at Cherrico Pottery felt like a privilege. Joel is smart and has audacious goals that he is constantly thinking about. One of my favorite things about interning for Cherrico Pottery is that Joel lets us read during our shifts.
Yes, we got paid to read books. It was actually required!
Joel wants his workers to be constantly learning and thinking about new ideas and perspectives, but he can’t always be in the office (duh, he’s gotta be making pots!) so he leaves the teaching to his collection of office books, and our own work ethic.
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Quote attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, qtd. in #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
Balancing Education, Work and Life
I graduated in the spring of 2019, and said my goodbyes to Cherrico Pottery, Sienna, and Joel. This goodbye was very hard. Cherrico Pottery was one of my very first internships and was the one most pivotal in my college experience.
I got to see my work actually do something and that’s one thing I have learned about working for a small business – you get to see your work make an impact in people’s lives all over the world.
Not only have I had the privilege to learn from both Joel and Sienna, but I have also got to work alongside other student workers; John, Lauren, and Jack. Joel and Sienna are not the only ones that have had an impact on me, but these three as well.
It isn’t easy to work with someone you love, but Joel was supportive of our relationship. He and Sienna work hard to do the same everyday. My time at Cherrico Pottery helped me learn that John and I could keep a balance of enjoying time together both in and out of the office.
The Next Generation of Student Works
We also got the opportunity to usher in the new helpers to the business: Avery and Aubrey. Part of my job was to train them in.
Every month, each employee (including Joel) posts a quote on the wall from the reading they did that month. This way, we can see what book everyone is reading and what resonates with them.
I think these aspects of the work are impressive because we can learn from Joel’s methods of balancing knowledge work with handcrafting art.
Now, this blog post isn’t just to inform you on how Joel started, how he does business or what his student interns do, but I really wanted to get across how thankful I am for Joel’s mentorship these past two years.
He has made a positive influence in my life while running his business full-time. I know Cherrico Pottery has big things ahead and I know the next student interns will have an influential experience, but it’s time for me to say “cya later”. The support, knowledge, and foundation you have put into my life, did not go unnoticed.
Thank you, Joel, Sienna, and fellow student workers for teaching me new things each week. I am very grateful!
GIVEAWAY: What is one thing you have learned from Cherrico Pottery?
*GIVEAWAY ENDED 1/15/20. Winners: Michael W, Angelique L, and 1 bonus winner: Lauren T. is also receiving a Mountain Mug. Winners were email privately and notified, and their comments were responded to below.
Leave a comment on this blog post before 2pm Central Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 answering the question above (What is one thing you have learned from Cherrico Pottery?) and we will pick two people to win two free “Random Cosmic Mugs” from our back stock, each paired with two books from our “Reading and Research” shelves: #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso and The Go-Giver by Bob Burg. We’ll mail them to two of you for free (giveaway 21+ void where prohibited, no unicorns…view more detailed giveaway policy here: cherricopottery.com/giveaway-policy) winner will be chosen by Joel Cherrico and announced in the comments around Thursday). Please allow 24-48 hours max for our moderator to approve your comment
Why are Joel’s mugs called “Cosmic Mugs” anyways? Wikipedia says, “Cosmic is anything pertaining to the cosmos” and the cosmos “is the Universe regarded as a complex and orderly system; the opposite of chaos.”
Our Universe is vast and mysterious, far more mysterious than what human beings can comprehend. But the cosmos also defines anything close and familiar in our modern, complex society, like a cup of coffee.
These “cosmic quotes” tell about just some reasons why Joel Cherrico chose to model the cosmos with clay and fire:
Every Cosmic Mug is crafted with this purpose in mind. Joel’s goal is to give every owner of a Cosmic Mug the chance to touch, taste and reflect on the Universe every morning by doing something as simple as drinking a cup of coffee.
Joel brings the cosmos into your home by choosing glazes that are made up of the same elements that are found in the outermost galaxies in our cosmos. Check out this early video below where Joel was first beginning to develop the ideas behind Cosmic Mugs a couple years ago:
Spirals are seen throughout the Universe and are at the foundation of Cosmic Mugs, which are formed by twisting clay on a pottery wheel. Scientists don’t know why spirals are so common, but like most things in the Universe, it is a mystery waiting to be unraveled. Read more about why spirals are so common in our Universe in this Discover Article.
One of Joel’s newest pieces in his Big Jars and Wall Platters collection brandishes a spiral as a stunning Cosmic Wall Platter. Joel modeled it after what astrophysicists have determined about the Milky Way’s spiral shape, with subtle textures and colors that are entirely an expression of the art.
Do you have a favorite quote about the cosmos? Share in the comments please!
July 20th, 1969 was when humans first set foot on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin (who owns a Cosmic Mug thanks to our friend Stacey at StarTalk) is 87 years young and he’s STILL active on Instagram, reminiscing about the experience:
Astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield also let us send him a Cosmic Mug. In his book, “An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth” Hadfiled tells how his childhood dream was to walk on the moon. That goal wasn’t reached, but it put him on a path towards successfully becoming an astronaut and achieving his Guinness World Records title for ‘first music video filmed in space.’ Joel studied Hadfield’s work, sent him a Cosmic Mug and got an inspiring letter in return. He said:
“Why climb the highest mountain? … We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”
– John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962
Entrepreneurship is one skill that has many of the same core values that propelled the United States to the moon. Entrepreneurs are required to spend years overcoming failures and striving towards success. You can learn how Joel launched and sustained his pottery business immediately after college graduation in this eight part authorship series for American Craft Council: