Mountain Pots: Artistry’s Alliance with Nature

Copper Mountain, Jacques Peak, 2014 back cover

Last year for my mom’s birthday, I bought a Cherrico mug from the Minnesota Street Market in St. Joseph. She handled the mug, turning it to admire the unique aspects of the swirl and glaze. She turned the mug over to inspect the rough surface of the bottom and asked, “What’s with the dog?” I leaned over the table, first trying to see the dog that she was seeing, and then explained to her that the line drawing is Joel’s artist signature and is meant to represent a Rocky Mountain landscape.

Cherrico Image 16, Joel Cherrico Signature

Stoneware pots are seldom glazed over the bottom; the exposed clay is called the “foot” of the pot. The clay is vitrified, meaning it’s non-absorbent, so it does not need to be glossy.

The contrast between the raw clay and the smooth glaze makes the stoneware pots more interesting and dynamic than the clean perfection of mass produced, machine made ceramics. The rough texture of the foot indicates that the pot is handmade with clay and a pottery wheel, making each pot one-of-a-kind.


In A Potter’s Book, potter and author Bernard Leach explains how a customer familiar with pottery carefully turns the pot over to look at the foot, inspecting the clay and searching for the artist’s bona fides:

“There in the most naked but hidden part of the work he expects to come into closest touch with the character and perception of its maker.” – Bernard Leach. A Potter’s Book. Faber and Faber Ltd., 2011. Page 23.

Joel leaves his personal touch on each pot in many ways, but the unique mark of his artistry is most readily seen in the foot of the pot. At the base of his mugs and cups, you can see the fingerprints that were left when he dipped the pot into the glaze.


On the bottom of each pot is another set of fingerprints circling the signature. In fact, if you look very closely at this set of prints, you can make out the unique pattern of Joel’s fingerprints setting his identity as an artist apart from the rest. All of these marks created without any tools other than Joel’s hands communicate to the customer the quality of handmade pottery.

Pottery finger print, Cherrico Pottery foot bottom of mug, 2015


Finally, the artist signature itself which is accomplished using an iron oxide stain. The iron oxide is harvested in Spain and pulverized and sifted into a fine, red powder which Joel mixes with water to create a paint-like substance. He paints his signature during the glazing process just before the second firing.

Joel’s mountain range signature is reminiscent of Professor Sam Johnson’s, who mentored him during his time at Saint John’s University. Sam Johnson’s signature represents the flatlands of Morris, Minnesota. The similarity between the two signatures shows Joel’s artistic heritage.

You can find Sam Johnson’s work at

Sam Johnson signature
Finding inspiration from flatlands to mountain ranges

Just as Sam Johnson draws inspiration from the landscape surrounding him, Joel turns to the land to find both the material and inspiration for his art. Joel was raised in the Midwest, but his family made an annual tradition of visiting the Rocky Mountains. He still tries to find time every year to visit the amazing mountain landscape.

Joel’s most recent trip to Denver, Colorado

Standing before or atop a mountain influences Joel as a person and as an artist. The magnitude of the mountains represents his own entrepreneurial and artistic ambition.

In a podcast conversation with buddhists Vince and Emily Hom, celebrity Joe Rogan describes what it is like to stand before what he considers nature’s greatest works of art:

“There’s something about mountains that is so humbling…Your daily life and troubles are balance and perspective to the images that you’re seeing of the most spectacular versions of art that nature has created. That’s what the mountains are to me…Nature’s stunning works of art.” – Buddhist Geeks. Joe Rogan, Podcast 530, 2:14:05, conversation with buddhists Vince and Emily Hom.

In Joel’s most recent work, the earth is represented in more than just the natural materials and his signature. The mountains are etched into the body of the cups and he experimented with different glazes to capture the colors of the mountains themselves, the sky, and the tree line.

Mountain CupsPottery is an artwork inextricably linked to nature. The clay, the raw materials used to make glazes, and even the potter himself are made up of natural elements and all are required to produce pottery. But the artist can also draw inspiration from the way Nature produces her own works of art, which are often the most beautiful.

Cosmic Pottery Mugs: How One Tweet Increased my Website Traffic by 3000% in One Day

Cosmic Arnold, Cropped

“Why is Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a Cosmic Mug?” I’d say that’s a fair question. Stay tuned for details…

Tim Ferriss is the first celebrity to show me that he understands the value of handmade pottery as fine art. Last month, he let me mail him a couple mugs. As a thanks, he sent a tweet to his one million+ Twitter followers and 278,000+ Facebook fans. This led to 3,507 people going to my website in one day- WOAH!

Tim Ferriss, Joel Cherrico Pottery, Cosmic Mug, Hubble Space Telescope, 2015

Cherrico Pottery, Tim Ferriss, Cosmic Mugs, 2015

If you haven’t heard of Tim Ferriss, he’s an amazing writer and entrepreneur. His book,“The Four Hour Workweek” changed my life. He inspired me to apply to break a Guinness World Record (which you’ll hear more about in the coming weeks!) and hooked me up with an order of over 2,000 Cosmic Mugs.

This week, Tim interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger on his podcast. It’s hilarious and inspiring, you should listen to it here on iTunes. In fact, if you just go to his website and check it out, I’ll e-mail you a $20 gift certificate for free pottery. There’s no catch, I’m just doing this as a thanks to Tim, to hopefully turn some of you onto his work. It’s also a thanks to any of you who are interested enough to read about my work! Here’s what to do:

1.) Just check out Tim’s podcast through this link:

2.) Email me at and tell me, “I checked out Tim Ferriss’ site!” That’s it! This is the honor system, but I hope you check it out. If you enjoy my story, I think you will enjoy spending a little more time seeing what Tim is all about.

3.) If done before Friday 2/6/15 at 6pm, I will reply to your email with a custom coupon code for $20 free pottery, good for anything in my online store, with no expiration date.

Thanks for reading! Check out my Instagram to stay updated with my newest pottery:

Cherrico Pottery, Instagram, 2015

Local Blend, National Trend: Millstream Arts Festival 2014

Joel Cherrico Pottery St. Joseph Minnesota Millstream Arts Stoneware Pots Throwing
Enthralling the youth with pottery.

With the winter-threatening winds howling outside, can you believe this sunny photo was taken less than two weeks ago? On Sunday, September 29th, the weather was a summery 80 degrees for the Millstream Arts Festival. Sixty-four artists sweated it out on the streets of St. Joseph, bringing in sales not only for themselves, but also for local businesses.

Local Blend Joel Cherrico Pottery St Joseph Minnesota Stoneware Pots
Bold new signage at the Local Blend.

Joel’s unique symbiotic partnership with the Local Blend continues to cultivate this relationship between artist and business year-round. This was Joel’s fourth year participating in Millstream and his second year throwing pots in front of the Local Blend. This location and his kick-powered wheel have consistently shown to bring in more sales. If you weren’t looking closely as you strolled down Minnesota Street, you may have missed him because of the crowd that gathered to watch pots being made!

No pressure, Joel.

Many of you may have heard about (and maybe entered!) Joel’s recent Shark Tank Pottery Giveaway. We selected the winners the day after Millstream, and gave those who stopped by the booth one last reminder to enter.

Shark Tank Joel Cherrico Pottery St Joseph Minnesota Millstream Arts Blue Nuka Glaze Pots Cups
Thanks again to all who took the time to enter!

As fun as this contest was, as much as Joel wants to bring his wheel to national TV – the local community remains paramount to his business model and poignant to him as an artist. This is where his pottery began. The local community is where Joel earns his livelihood, giving him the stability to pursue his bigger dreams and schemes.

Joel Cherrico Pottery Farmers Market Karatsu Wheel Mugs Stoneware Pots
The finicky process and the final product.

Joel participates in 3 weekly farmers’ markets in Sartell, St. Cloud, and St. Joseph, Minnesota. These farmers’ markets, along with art festivals such as Millstream and Art in Bayfront Park in Duluth, Minnesota, cultivate the local emphasis essential to Joel’s artistic philosophy. Here, customers can handle the pottery, watch it being made, and get to know the artist.

Duluth Art in Bayfront Park, Handmade Pottery, 2014
Throwing pots in Duluth at Art in Bayfront Park.

Then, when someone takes home a mug, its mysteries become more accessible and appreciated. That spiral in the clay, those finger marks in the glaze, they now have memory and meaning in them.

Joel Cherrico Pottery Stoneware Nuka Glaze Pots St Joseph Minnesota Millstream Arts
Blue pots, blue skies.
Joel Cherrico Pottery Throwing Pots Local Blend St Joseph Minnesota Millstream Arts
Make pots while the sun shines!

Shipping and Mishandling: From the Digital Store to Your Doorstep

Anyone who’s flown with a commercial airline before knows the dread that accompanies handing off your luggage to the disgruntled employee who chucks your bag onto the conveyer belt without blinking. A similar leap of faith occurs with online shopping, when you enter your credit card number and simply trust that the product will arrive safely and soon.

Precarious pots.

Joel’s pottery is pretty tough. His mugs survive being washed and handled tens of times a day at the Local Blend. I won’t disclose how often my own Cherrico pottery cups get yanked out of the cupboard to be filled with wine and clanked down onto a coaster. Joel himself has no qualms piling up pots for one of his signature #potsonpots moments.

But that airport bag woman, that USPS postman, they just don’t care. One of my intern duties is prepping the pots sold online for their journey through this uncaring world. The last thing Joel wants is for a customer – be it a mother in Iowa or a celebrity like Ellen Degeneres – to open that package and find a broken pot. Not only does this make for poor customer service, but it also wastes time and money because a new pot must now be packed and shipped free of charge.

Yep, we really did send pots to Ellen. (And Neil, too!)

Another way Joel saves money in the shipping process is by following his blunt philosophy of: “I hate buying things.” Thankfully the unavoidable exceptions to this rule (tape, labels, a box cutter, etc.) are relatively cheap. Other materials he can find completely free.

The first step of shipping a pot is wrapping it in newspaper. We use regular old newspapers (free!) or a large roll of blank newsprint Joel got from a friend who works for a local paper (also free!). The last step of shipping a pot is putting it in the box. As many frequently-moving college students know, liquor boxes are a must-have. They’re plentiful, a convenient size, sturdy, and – say it with me now – free. The downside to using liquor boxes is they must be turned inside out because it is illegal for regular folks like us to ship in liquor boxes.

You are, of course, free to drink said liquor out of Joel’s pots.

What about the middle step? Besides frugality, Joel also pursues sustainability in the packing process – in the form of hundreds of egg cartons.

A few years ago, Joel connected with a local farmer named Everett. Everett had a deal with the recycling center to take the egg cartons they received. (Brief PSA: Even though many of them are made from post-consumer materials, egg cartons are not recyclable. Huh. Who knew?) As a chicken farmer, Everett used some of the cartons himself, but the rest he kept in his garage in massive stacks, knowing someone would have a use for them one day.

Carting those cartons.

Joel was that someone. Egg cartons are made to transport a product much more fragile than his pottery. They provide great cushioning and quickly fill up the box’s empty space without adding very much weight, which is paramount when paying for postage. Plus, two van loads of egg cartons cost Joel only one box of pots for Everett.

Mutual sustainable practices such as this are not new to our community. When Richard Bresnahan was founding the St. John’s Pottery, he was drawn to the economical habits of the monastery, especially the carpenters:

“He discovered they rarely threw anything away and carefully salvaged doors, windows, paneling, fixtures, and other hardware when structures were razed or remodeled. In the hands of Benedictine carpenters, such discards were given new life.” – Matthew Welch. Body of Clay, Soul of Fire. St. John’s University Press, 2001. Page 52.

Let’s say you decide to purchase a pot from Joel’s online store. (Maybe you entered his Shark Tank Pottery Cup Giveaway, and you wanted to give your anticipated prize cup a companion.)

I receive your order confirmation and find the corresponding pot. Inside a box which once protected bottles of Jameson, I build a nest of Everett’s egg cartons. The newspaper-wrapped pot gets snugly squeezed in and is topped off by more cartons.

Finally, I close the lid, without taping it for now, and shake that box like I’m a USPS delivery woman chucking it onto your doorstep because it’s the middle of January and it’s 40 below and I want to get back into my truck ASAP. If I don’t feel anything moving in there, I’ve done my job right. All the package needs now is tape, labels, and a lift to the post office.

A few days later, you’ll get to open that box and see your trust in online shopping fulfilled.

Shipping Packing Egg Cartons Joel Cherrico Pottery Pots Mug
Sweet, safe success!