5 Potters Who Embody The Art of Business

“The challenge is to do the thing you have to do because you’re in love with it and can’t do anything else. Not because you want to become rich or famous but because you will be unhappy if you can’t do it.”

~ Warren MacKenzie, qtd. in The Studio Potter, 1990. Referenced in “A Potter’s Journey, Part Six: Growing A Profitable Pottery Business”

There are far easier ways to grow a business than by selling pottery, but few are more satisfying. Potters use their bare hands to craft gorgeous vessels that are only finished after literally surviving a trial by fire.

Making a living as a potter means letting people eat and drink from your gorgeous art, while respectfully receiving currency for your creations. It’s an incredibly fulfilling way to live in our globalized society.

“Plenty of people can make great work. Not everyone has the dedication to make it, and to make it work. ~ Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

Here is a list of 5 potters from different parts of the planet who are especially skilled in the art of pottery business.

Prairie Fire Pottery

Potter Tama Smith and her husband Jerry craft and sell pottery with gorgeous, abstract glazes inspired by the North Dakota landscape. Millions of people drive by on I-94 every summer, see their pottery billboards and stop to buy pots on the way to and from the Rocky Mountains.

Wall platters and mugs inspired by the North Dakota Landscape made by Tama Smith, head potter at Prairie Fire Pottery

“Any potter can make cups and bowls. Your surfaces will set you apart.”

– Tama Smith, Prairie Fire Pottery

20+ years of potting full-time in the North Dakota Prairie draws people in to hear their story and buy pots, including me. Their business was so captivating that I even worked out there for a spell.

Learn more about Prairie Fire Pottery in this American Craft Council authorship, “A Potter’s Journey, Part Six: Growing A Profitable Pottery Business” or from blog posts I wrote during my two week stint working as a production potter in their studio:

Studio Guest and Production Thrower at Prairie Fire Pottery, Beach, ND

Looking Back on my Pottery Trip to Prairie Fire Pottery, Beach, ND

Shiho Kanzaki

Shiho San (Mr. Shiho) has lived in the small town of Shigaraki, Japan for his entire life. He welcomed me into his studio last year to sit cross legged, sip espresso and hear stories of his rise to the top of Japanese Tea Ceremony prestige. We browsed his personal gallery, held $5,000 tea bowls and touched a $70k vase.

Devotion to natural materials (digging clay from his backyard, using traditional Korean kick-wheels, firing with only wood for 10 days straight) forced him to endure years of strife in his early career. Shiho San caught a break by selling tea bowls from the trunk of his car to a generous, influential Buddhist monk.

Tokyo skyscraper galleries were vying for his art within a few years. Over the decades, his art would grace the some of the most prestigious galleries atop the tallest skyscrapers in Tokyo.

Shiho Kanzaki signing a book personalized to me, and then showing us his 50 year old bonsai at his studio in Shigaraki, Japan.

Dick Cooter Pottery

Visit this Northern Minnesota studio anytime year round and you can buy a pot from an outdoor shelf. Simply leave $30 in his money jar and be on your way.

Oddly enough, someone new to ceramics could easily mistake Dick’s art for Shiho Kanzaki’s. Both make specific types of wood fired pottery inspired by the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

What do the vastly different prices say about the quality of their curiously similar art? Absolutely nothing.

Both potters mastered their craft, then worked for decades to create symbiotic relationships with their communities. Both charge and receive what they need in order to thrive.

Dick’s rural studio has been planted near Lake Superior for 30 years. The kiln, studio and his home feel native to the land, like they sprouted up with the trees. This fall, my girlfriend and I were lucky to experience and film a kiln unloading, which happens only four days per year:


Hamada Pottery

Tomoo Hamada is a third generation potter, grandson of famous potter Shoji Hamada, who was a Japanese National Living Treasure. Tomoo and his father Shinsaku Hamada live and work in Mashiko, Japan.

Mashiko pottery was largely established by Hamada pottery, and now 350+ pottery studios attract people to spring and fall pottery festivals. Each festival draws 3-500k people to Mashiko to buy pottery over just a few days.

Hamada Pottery is set up as a museum with a calm, self guided tour of the gorgeous grounds. The tour ends with a pottery gallery. After buying three small plates, Tomoo welcomed us into his studio for tea and a pottery trimming demo.

This gigantic pot welcomes visitors to the train station in Mashiko, Japan. At Hamada Pottery, Tomoo generously gave us a trimming demo on his traditional Korean-style kick wheel.

Hamada Pottery also uses tech savvy means of connecting with people. Tomoo friended me on Facebook and showed me video from his wood-firing on his smartphone, while standing next to a kiln that was still warm from a recent firing.

Firing salt kiln at Hamadagama-pottery.
塩窯の窯焼きのクライマックス、塩投入です。
高温で塩が一気に気化して、柚子肌のガラス状に溶けて器に付着して釉薬になります。

塩釉焼成はドイツの手法で、濱田庄司が1950年代にヨーロッパ視察の際にこの技法を知り、日本で初めて益子の濱田窯で挑戦したことから始まります。

技法は参考にしつつも、ドイツの装飾的な塩釉作品とは違う日本ならではの釉薬と炎の作用する力強く味わい深い表現を庄司は行いました。

私の代になり、登り窯から単室のアーチ窯で焼くようにしました。アーチ窯の方が耐久性も高く、塩もコントロールしやすいですね。

窯出しが楽しみです。

Posted by 濱田友緒(tomoo hamada) on Monday, July 3, 2017


Ayumi Horie Pottery

Ayumi Horie is an online pioneer potter. About 10 years ago, she launched an online store that has consistently, successful sold high-end coffee mugs to customers globally, almost instantly after posting her new pots.

She founded “Pots In Action” (potsinaction.com) in 2005, which uses crowd sourcing to help potters and ceramic artists connect with and educate the public about rich ceramic traditions.

Ayumi also helped organize “Handmade For Japan” (handmadeforjapan.org) which used art to raise over $100,000 for post-disaster relief during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, giving the fund entirely to GlobalGiving’s Japan Earthquake and Tsunami relief fund.

Her efforts to organize online communities around pottery give people deeper reasons for supporting her body of work and pottery catalog. Other potters have referred to her as the “Queen of Social Media” and it shows in her high quality videos that help people relate to her pots through making food:

Ramen Making -part 1

Making ramen and making pots. The 1st of 5 clips from my new ramen video. Stay tuned for the next four! Edited at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, music by Lullatone. Online sale coming up Nov 1.

Posted by Ayumi Horie Pottery on Friday, September 22, 2017


Pottery and Book Giveaway ($509 value)

Thanks so much for reading this far. Please feel free to enter this giveaway, inspired by some of the most notable pottery of the Cherrico Pottery business: Cosmic Mugs and Guinness World Records pottery, as well as 3 copies of one of Joel Cherrico’s favorite business books: Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday


Bonus Entries: What is your favorite business or organization and why?

ENDED: Thanks for participating everyone! 3 anonymous winners were chosen and we emailed them for their free pottery and books. Plus, we even chose one more person from the comments to win another bonus Cosmic Mug. Congrats, Kristin!

Stoic Pottery: How Ancient Philosophy Inspires Cosmic Mugs

“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, quoted in “The Daily Stoic”

The Ceramic process is almost like magic. Clay, water and earth elements change through fire to create gorgeous coffee mugs.

“As cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson has explained, the cosmos fills us with complicated emotions. On the one hand, we feel an infinitesimal smallness in comparison to the vast universe; on the other, an extreme connectedness to this larger whole.” – Ryan Holiday, quoted in “The Daily Stoic”

Have you ever wondered why I call them “Cosmic Mugs” (cosmicmugs.com) instead of “galaxy” or “nebula” or “stellar” mugs? Art is complicated, and “cosmic” seems like a better word to convey all the complexities inherent to pottery vs. factory made mugs.

“Stoicism” helps me wrestle with these ideas. It helps me ask, “What is most appropriate and honest?” It helps me realize that pottery can be tough, and that even if I get a bad batch of pots, I can recover and make more. If pots have rough textures, that might require building an entire section of our website devoted to explaining it. As renowned artist Richard Bresnahan says,

“It’s 1/3 the artist, it’s 1/3 the material and it’s 1/3 the firing. If you think that you’re going to expect to have control over the 1/3 of the firing, you’re going to be always disappointed.”

– Richard Bresnahan, “The Taste of Clay”

If you’re wrestling with ideas in your own art or struggles in your own life, you might benefit from stoic ideas too. This giveaway that my friends at The Daily Stoic are hosting is a great way to get introduced:

Daily Stoic Giveaway

These two Cosmic Mugs were mailed off to two modern day Stoic authors: Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss

The Daily Stoic (dailystoic.com) has helped me look more deeply into why I wake up everyday and make pots. You can learn about how a contemporary stoic book called, “The Obstacle Is The Way” helped me train for the pottery Guinness World Recoreds title here:

How Meditation Helped Me Set A Pottery World Record

Stoicism sounds boring, but the benefits in my life and pottery career have been remarkable. This giveaway has a bunch of amazing “stoic” items and it’s a great way to get your feet wet in how these ideas might be able to help you:

Daily Stoic Giveaway

No, I’m not getting paid to say this, I’m just a huge fan and have seen remarkable benefits in my own life and business. If you are struggling with anything, then I just thought you might benefit stoicism too. Here is what I find most useful and valuable:

Watch Joel Cherrico set the pottery Guinness World Records title for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual’

What resources or tools help you get through tough times in your life?

Leave a comment below before Monday 8/28/2017 telling us what resources or tools have helped you get through tough times in your life. We’ll pick the best comment and send the winner one World Record Pottery Planter, ($179 value: $159 + 20 average packing and shipping) shipped almost anywhere globally, totally free!

To enter, you must leave one, genuine comment, or the moderator will not approve your comment or include you in the giveaway. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Please allow up to 48 hours for your comment to appear. You must also be on our email newsletter distribution list to qualify, so please make sure you are okay with receiving our email newsletter before you leave a comment. We will pick winners before the following Wednesday around 2pm Central and you will receive the pottery shipped to you nearly anywhere globally, totally free. 

How Meditation Helped Me Set A Pottery World Record

Back in February, 2015, I read “The Obstacle Is The Way” just before setting the new pottery Guinness World Records title for ‘most pots thrown in one how by an individual, which you can watch in this Facebook video. This story tells how I trained my body and mind to achieve the feat.

“That looks so calming and relaxing…absolutely peaceful to watch… so soothing…”

Thousands of people watch my Facebook throwing demos and typically say things like this. I really appreciate the sentiment. Unfortunately, they can’t feel how pottery making is actually really tough. Ridiculously tough.

Yes it’s hard because it requires a lot of skill, but it’s also hard on your body. Hands, arms, back and leg muscles are tight. Slouching posture feels natural, but must be corrected to avoid back injuries. Intense concentration keeps pots flowing off the kick wheel, but the slightest error ruins the entire pot. Even when I get into a meditative rhythm after 10-20 pots, my mind instantly begins wandering, requiring even more intense concentration.

All of those stresses were amplified during the world record attempt, even causing me to throw out my back during practice.

Let’s back up a bit. For one full year, I practiced for the Guinness World Records title for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual’ by creating over 1,000 of the required “planters” for the record attempt. Slowly and methodically these pots came off the wheel over many months of practice, on top of another 3,500+ pots that I needed to create and sell to make a living. Three weeks before the record attempt, I quickened pace, training like I was going to run a marathon.

Training began the day after returning from Japan. Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji were incredibly inspiring. Happily back to work in my pottery studio in Minnesota, I began training at full speed. The previous record holder from the UK beat the record on an electric wheel, but I planned to use my traditional, Japanese kick wheel. With no motor, you can’t just crank the engine and move your hands. It requires your full body.

“Awesome!” I thought. “It will look so cool breaking the record with a kick wheel. Let’s do this!”

I prepared 100 pounds of clay, sat down at the wheel and immediately, painfully threw my back out.

Handstands at Mount Fuji might have boosted my ego a bit. This was the second time I threw out my back from throwing too much pottery too quickly. Last year, I was in bed for two days straight and couldn’t make pots for a week. Fortunately, this time the lower back tweak was minor.

Two days later, I returned to training more carefully. 350+ pounds of clay were required for the record attempt and I couldn’t even throw one third of that. No more screwing around.

21 days after returning from Japan, I set a new Guinness World Records title for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual. Here was my daily regime during that three week training period:

  • No alcohol
  • 10 minutes daily mediation using the free Headspace App
  • 2 hour workouts: 1-2 miles running before full body exercises guided by the free Freeletics App
  • 1 hour stretching: 15 minutes before workouts, 45 minutes after
  • 3-4 hours pottery practice

The mental strain was stifling:

  • “What if I throw my back out again?”
  • “What if I fail in front of 8 volunteers, photographers, reporters, kids, friends who drove 60 miles?”
  • “What if I miss a requirement and GWR rejects us?”
  • “How do I get 350 pounds of clay measured into 2 pound balls and moved 6 miles, up 3 flights of stairs. What if THAT throws my back out?”
  • “Not drinking sucks. I want a beer.”

Three things helped me conquer my mental demons:

  1. Meditation
  2. The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium, Jupiter and Mars

During his TED Talk video, Andy Puddicombe’s juggling and public speaking skills make the benefits of meditation self evident.

The Obstacle Is The Way was a “quake book” for me. Streaming it on Audible three times in three weeks helped me optimistically explore every possible way to conquer the record.

150 pots in one hour was the record to beat. One day before the attempt, I set up a stopwatch and threw 48 pots in 19 minutes. Do the math and you get one pot every 23.75 seconds. Beating the record required one pot every 24 seconds. I was barely scraping by and had to triple the throwing time.  Those margins were too close for comfort.

“When America first sent astronauts into space, they trained them in one skill more than any other: the art of not panicking.”

– Ryan Holiday

When I sat down to attempt the record, I had no idea whether or not I could beat it. Eight volunteers needed directions, 30 people were patiently staring at me and the 375 pounds of clay was sitting next to me, beginning to dry.

A stroke of good fortune hit. Someone randomly put on my all time favorite album: “Stadium Arcadium” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasted through the loud speakers.

The clock started. I wasn’t worried. I got into a rhythm and the flow started. For the next hour, the benefits of meditation were obvious. It was easy to ignore the huge influx of distracting sounds, questions, gaze of the crowd and bullshit doubts in my own mind. I found myself singing along to the Chili Peppers tunes. The rest is history.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

– Archilochos, quoted by Tim Ferriss