Working For Artists: How Cherrico Pottery Teaches Students To Be Original

(estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes)

This is a guest blog post written by Megan Schroeder,  student worker at Cherrico Pottery from 2017-2019 during her undergraduate studies at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. This post is a reflection of her time at Cherrico Pottery, written after her college graduation. Enter Megan:

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 inside the 5ft. x 6ft. x 16ft. long kiln interior, loading over 1,000 pots, and then firing with only wood for 7 days non-stop up to 2400 degrees F.

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.

Joel performing pottery demonstrations at the American Craft Council headquarters, alongside a show of his large jars and wall platters, 2018

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.

I have taken lots of professional and personal advice from these books. My three favorites have been The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, and #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso.

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.

John and I actually maintained a loving relationship throughout our time at Cherrico Pottery (John has also written over 6 blog posts for Cherrico Pottery).

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.

Photo by Avery, Joel in front of our Quote wall with one of his favorite books: “A Potter’s Book” by Bernard Leach, even though his quote from this month was from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” audio book

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!

– Megan (Cherrico Pottery “Magic Pottery Elf” Alumni)

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 It’s Not Enough To Do What You Love

You also have to love what you do.

Flipping the slogan of “Do what you love” to “Love what you do” changes how we spend our time. Instead of dreaming grandiose thoughts of succeeding at our passion, we can love what’s right here in front of us– even if we’re struggling with something that’s not so glamorous.

“‘Do what you love‘ is in the future. Love what you dois right now.”

– Paul Buchheit

You’ve probably never heard of Paul Buchheit, but his work helps millions of people everyday. He invented Gmail.

Paul worked at Google and helped build it from the ground up, back when Google was tiny– less than 30 people.

Why do some companies stay small, while some grow to mammoth scales like Google? Is it just luck? Being in the right place at the right time? Or does it have more to do with our choices?

Finding Your Larger Purpose

Paul compares growing a business to launching a rocket. What’s most important is why— our purpose, and our deep human need to explore.

“It’s often assumed that business is all about money. But to me, that’s like saying that rockets are all about rocket fuel. On some level, it’s true. You won’t even make it off the launchpad without fuel…But among the truly significant founders [businesses] I’ve known, there’s always a larger purpose. It’s not just the nihilistic pursuit of rocket fuel.”

Success Comes From Loving What You Do Everyday

For 5 straight years, I lived as a full-time potter but barely made minimum wage. Sometimes I had to fight to keep Cherrico Pottery alive and often traded pottery for food.

Looking back now and admitting that is embarrassing. But at the time, people would constantly tell me, “At least you get to do what you love!”

That’s not how I survived. Cherrico Pottery grew because I woke up everyday and loved what I did.

I was genuinely excited to work 18 hours straight on a kiln firing. To me, it felt like playing with clay and fire day!

I didn’t care that the payoff was maybe a few hundred dollars worth of pottery to sell for the week (before expenses). I loved the artistic process. The work of making pottery, living as a potter, was it’s own reward. And I always sold/traded enough pottery to get by.

And years later, that love also helped grow the business too, starting when I created the “Cosmic Mug” and raised $34,099 in one month on Kickstarter.

“Frugality, Focus, Obsession and Love”

– Sam Altman

Focus is so rare today, with our easy digital distractions. But when you lean into the difficulty of an intricate craft, you reap the rewards. Years of toil and strife set me up for the skills necessary to captivate people in a Guinness World Records spectacle, achieving the record on my first try. But that wouldn’t have been possible without 10k+ hours of deliberate practice.

Frugality taught us how to package pottery with post-consumer and eco-friendly materials, like when we shipped 1,000 pots with 1,000 egg cartons.

We don’t make art because it’s necessary for our capitalist society. We make art because it’s necessary for humanity. Loving what we do means that even when times are hard, when things aren’t going so well, we can still find joy everyday. Long-term, that’s a recipe for success.

GIVEAWAY: What is one thing that you do everyday because you love it?

(ENDED: congrats to the winner, Helen W and she was emailed and notified about her free gifts. Thank you for your wonderful comment Helen, and thank you everyone for participating! To get notified about all future giveaways, please join cherricopottery.com/newsletter

Leave a comment on this blog post before 2pm Central this Friday 8/17/2019 answering the question above (What is one thing that you do everyday because you love it?) and I will pick one person to win one free “Random Cosmic Mug” from our back stock paired with a coin I carry in my pocket almost everyday. It says, “Amor Fati” which means “Love of Fate.” It reminds me to love everything, both good and bad, everyday. It helps me use even my hardships as fuel, like a fire that turns everything in it’s path into fuel. I got it from dailystoic.com because I really enjoy their work, and I’ll mail it to one of you for free (giveaway 21+ void where prohibited, no unicorns, etc…winner will be chosen by Joel Cherrico and announced in the comments around 3pm Central Friday 8/17/2019). Please allow 24-48 hours max for our moderator to approve your comment 🙂

Every Patron Gets a Pot: a new way to make and get Art

Last week, about 2,400 people responded to this Facebook Survey Request/Giveaway. Our goal was to test whether or not people might want a new feature: a low priced, pottery subscription service that gives them a more affordable way to get a Cherrico Pottery cup.

73% of people wanted this! I was super surprised, because subscriptions can be really tricky. None of us need another monthly bill. It’s also a TON of extra work for our team to keep track of subscriptions, to guarantee everything is organized, that pottery gets crafted, packed and shipped in a specific timeline.

But shipping handmade art straight to people’s doorsteps is something special. We’ve gotten better and better over time, and been able to get costs down. Our team has broken only about 3 pots in shipping in the past 3 years– out of about 9,000 total pots!

So today, we’re announcing a HUGE change to our Patreon “Fan Club” subscription service– everyone gets a pot!

NEW FEATURE: Every Patron Gets Pottery

QUESTION: “Why should I subscribe?”

Answer: You’re getting lowest possible prices, while helping Cherrico Pottery evolve. Your subscription is a HUGE help for us. It means that we don’t have to worry every month about what pottery we need to craft, kiln fire (while crossing our fingers that the firings go well) and figure out how to sell. More subscribers means that we (Sienna and Joel) can spend more time making art, and far less time selling it. We can spend longer periods of time crafting pots for once yearly mailings as our main support source. Consistent monthly support also let us be more generous with gifts, giveaways and coupons every month. Please consider subscribing here: patreon.com/cherricopottery

QUESTION: “I’m already a Patron. What changes?”

Answer: Nothing! Except that now you are getting at least one bonus piece of pottery mailed to your doorstep at no extra cost, once yearly. View all details in our “Reward Tiers” here: patreon.com/cherricopottery

QUESTION: “Can I still get pottery from your free newsletter if I don’t subscribe?”

Answer: Yep! Patrons will get first pick and consistently better coupons, but lots of great deals will still be available in the free newsletter.

QUESTION: “Can I send you a one-time payment instead?”

Answer: No, sorry. Thank you very much for considering this, though. The best way to do this is to simply buy a piece of pottery, at full price or with coupons, from cosmicmugs.com or store.cherricopottery.com.

QUESTION: “I have more questions!”

Answer: No problem. We created a detailed “Patreon Frequently Asked Questions page”  on our website so you can learn all about how to create a Patreon account, update billing, learn about cancellations, refunds and more: cherricopottery.com/patreonfaq

Patreon started out as a way to support something very specific: Facebook Live videos of me making pottery. 

It felt like people were simply supporting us out of the kindness of their hearts, because they loved watching the Facebook videos so much– and it also felt like a success. Our initial 200 supporter goal was reached in just a few months. 

But somehow, it always comes back to the pots. People kept telling us that what they really wanted was pottery– not just to watch it being made, but to use and enjoy it in their homes.

Patreon.com/cherricopottery is now the most affordable way for you to get a piece of pottery for yourself or as a gift. Simply subscribe, sit back, and wait for your pottery to arrive, while watching it come to life on Facebook Live.

“Art: that’s what we call it when a human being makes something, something that might not work, something generous, something important. That’s what art is.”

Seth Godin, qtd. in “Your Job is to Make Art”

Think Constantly on the Changing of the Elements into Each Other

“Watch the stars in their courses and imagine yourself running alongside them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.”

– Marcus Aurelius

My morning ritual usually goes like this:

Today’s “Daily Stoic” passage was fitting, considering I filmed this video about “Cosmic Wall Platters” yesterday. I shared that exact same quote, totally by coincidence (even though yes, this art was inspired by ideas surrounding stoicism that I’ve been studying for a while now).

Even in modern society, with all of our advanced technology, crafting art with our hands is more important than ever. It connects us deeply to what it means to be human.

But living as a full-time artist is extremely rare today. Too often, artists are defeated by the fact that art can’t always exist unless it’s priced and sold.

“I always say to artists, ‘Don’t to be an artist unless you really really really really really have to.’ Because 99% of artists don’t have money. They have to make an enemy out of envy. Or it will eat them alive.”

– Jerry Saltz, qtd. in “The Price of Everything”

The “Art Market” can feel kind of gross.

Art becomes more valuable when famous artists die.

Some of the world’s wealthiest collectors are known for using art as trading cards of wealth, just like stocks and bonds. Stock traders have even been known to “short” the art market just like housing, automotive industry or anything else. (The Great Contemporary Art Bubble BBC Documentary)

Some galleries have even been accused of buying work from their own artists, only to prop up prices.

Museums give everyone access to society’s best art, but they only show a tiny selection of what exists. They are the gatekeepers to prestige and perception, yet overflowing with art. Most of their art lives in underground storage.

What’s the solution?

How do artists support doing what they love– making art everyday?

For me, the answer always comes back to something simple: focusing only on what you can control.

That means making as much pottery as I can (about 2,500 pots per year), pricing each piece of art appropriately, and selling it to enter the world right now.

Showing your art to the world can be terrifying. These are our babies! How do you put a price on something you poured your heart and soul into?

Figuring out your art serves people is scary, but it’s a worthy pursuit, because the need is great.

“Fear is the greatest problem for us potters. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being accepted or rejected. If we can work without it, work for the joy of working, then we are free. Because we are no longer working for money, for fame, or for mother, but for ourself.”

– Jenny Lind, The Studio Potter, 1979
store.cherricopottery.com/cosmic-wall-platters/