I recently meet Joel at NCECA. He had contacted me in the past about the emerging artist posts and was already on the list for a profile on the blog. He then sent me the following guest post about his experience at NCECA this year. Grab a cup of coffee and have a nice read on a lovely Sunday morning.

am interested in exploring the role of handmade pottery in today’s
world. Industrialized ceramics has eliminated the need for handmade
wares, so the potter has redefined his/her place in society by creating
an artistic visual language through production of handmade, utilitarian
vessels.  In that case, why make utilitarian vessels?  I believe the
ability to eat and drink from pottery creates a heightened sense of
approachability to the artwork, allowing viewers to develop
relationships through active participation. I limit my use of tools, constantly exploring ways to communicate the touch of my hand in each pot.”

Generous Community Building: An Emerging Artist’s Experience at NCECA, 2014

“We should make work that elevates the ceramic field, and elevates all human beings.”

– Theaster Gates, Keynote Speaker for NCECA, 2014.
NCECA 2014 was mindblowing. Never have so
many of my clay heroes been in one place at the same time. Even more
amazing was the fact that all of them were there to answer questions
face to face.
Since graduating with a B.A. in Art in
2010, I’ve had 2 main goals: support my livelihood as a full-time potter
and join the contemporary ceramics scene. Pottery sales got me to NCECA
this year, but becoming a voice in the clay world is a slow, steady
process. Ben Carter calls this, “going pro.” I’m not there yet, but here
are some highlights of how I approached NCECA to try and join this
Gave Away Free Pottery
I attached business card images to plates
and shot glasses, guaranteeing these would stand out among the
thousands of paper posters, postcards, and business cards. People
instantly snatched them up. As clay artists, if we’re willing to invest
so much time and money into paper ads, why not invest that into
advertising with clay instead?
Clay Shot Cup Business Advertisement, Joel Cherrico Pottery
Stoneware Shot Cup Business Cards, Joel Cherrico Pottery
…especially when NCECA is filled with thousands of paper advertisements.
NCECA Advertisements, Photo by Joel Cherrico, 2014
Brought Mugs to Critique
I drove to NCECA with a box of 30 mugs. At first, I was sure I
could sell them. In reality, my simple, Minnesota pottery mugs seemed
like a dime a dozen. So I filled my backpack with mugs and pulled them
out to critique with whoever was willing. This led to numerous solid
critiques with some of my heroes in the clay world…Adam Field, Danny
Meisinger (Spinning Earth Pottery), Keith Williams (former NCECA
President). I ended up just giving away over 20 mugs with business
With help from a good friend and artist Jim Mcallister, I spent $50
to make over 60 of these to give out at NCECA as my business cards:
Business Cards, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014
Sought out Clay Heroes and Asked Them Questions
Danny Meissinger of Spinning Earth Pottery setup
the premier display as you walked into the expo hall. After sparking up
conversation with him, I said, “Danny, I’ve been a full-time potter for 4
years and this year I want to make 7,000 pots.” He walked away from his
gallery display, pulled out a folding chair and said, “Sit.”
20 minutes later I was still sitting, thumbing through a box of his
coffee mugs while he held one of mine. Here are some of his insights:
7,000 pots this year, get that shit out of your system. Because you
don’t want to be 58 years old with 2 cysts in your left hand and pain in
your shoulder. But do it this year, I’m going to look you up next year
to see if you did it.”
“You owe
it to yourself to raise your prices and lower your production. If you
make 7,000 pots my prediction is that you will raise your sales, but it
won’t be sustainable.”
Below is a photo I shot during 2010 NCECA
in Philadelphia. I was a senior in college. Danny remembered talking
with me 4 years ago. This definitely helped us connect on a deeper
Danny Meisinger Spinning Earth Pottery NCECA 2010 Philadelphia Joel Cherrico Pottery 2014

Next I found Chris Gustin and shot him some questions. He answered with this simple, powerful quote:
love my gallery work and it still sells, but ceramic tiles really pay
the bills. And I still do work on the tile side of the business too.
I’ve found that if you have cash flow you can do anything.”
Accompanying this great quote was a shot
of him smiling next to 3 of his vessels during the “Flow” exhibition in
the Milwaukee Art Museum:
Chris Gustin, Milwaukee Art Museum, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014
Carolina potter Mark Hewitt gave equally powerful one-liners. He said
these during his panel, “Where Have All the Studio Potters Gone?” As a
young potter trying to make a living and build a business, I though his
advice was spot on:
“Teaching is a form of generosity.”
“Be realistic about your financial resources…do you have access to capital and land?”
“Go visit the potters whose work you like.”
“Be humble. Get an internship or an apprenticeship.”
first thing I tell a prospective apprentice is, ‘You don’t want to be a
potter.’ It’s not easy, even in the best of conditions…some still want
to defy the odds, and I’ve had 20 apprentices over the last 20 years.
Six are making a living entirely from potting, six are making pots and
have extra income from an extra job, or from a spouse, six are in
various stages of transitioning…two are no longer potting.”
“My most successful apprentices are those that worked the hardest, and wanted to succeed the most.”
“If they have settled close to me, they have tended to do better (by stealing my business!)”
“We need
mainstream advocacy for pottery…wouldn’t it be nice if ‘Ghost’ was
remade…How about a sitcom set in a pottery studio? With a master potter
and a stoner apprentice…”
“Why are there no potters in People Magazine?”
“Build on pre-existing support structures. Build community.”
“Go where there is money, go where there is clay.”
Those last few really got to me. Why
don’t we see skilled potters throwing on national TV? I return to NCECA
Keynote speaker, Theaster Gates, who may have taken the first steps
toward making this a reality with his spot on the Colbert Nation.
Stepped up to the Mic
snapped this before asking a question at the #virtualclay panel in
front of 200+ spectators. Sorry for the blur, but my hands were shaking.
Virtual Clay Panel NCECA 2014 Joel Cherrico Pottery
Oh and that woman in front of me with the long black hair…that was Ayumi Horie, and my question was about her…awkward!
She’s one of my heroes because she’s an innovator to her core,
while remaining true to the pots she wants to make. Chris Gustin shows 2
bodies of work: vessels for galleries, and tiles to pay the bills. But
Ayumi Horie makes her pots, markets her pots ingeniously, and sells them
all. Here was my question for the panel:
Question: ”I’ve been closely studying Ayumi since
2008, and I built my website after seeing her consistently sell so much
pottery online for such high prices. Why do you think she’s had so much
success? Is it her staying power? The prestigious places she’s studied?
Her writing in Ceramics Monthly and American Craft Council?”
(Ayumi locked eyes with me right as I spit out the question.)
Answer: “Generosity. She volunteers and donates so much of her time to the ceramic community and the community gives back.”
More was said, but that’s what I took from the panel responses.
Generosity was a reoccurring theme that I kept hearing people bring up.
After the panel, Ayumi came to me and introduced herself. I apologized
for being awkward, but she said, “No worries it was a good question,
let’s keep in touch.” I gave her an “Indian Head Penny” business card
and she thanked me.
Ayumi Horie Joel Cherrico Pottery 2014, Musing About Mug Guest Blog PostAyumi Horie Instagram, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014    
The next day she blew up my Instagram. I was so happy I got teary eyed. I
mean here was a person I’ve been studying closely, copying her web
design, scrutinizing all of her accomplishments, for over 5 years. She
finally sees my work and actually likes it. That validation was pretty
powerful. That wasn’t the only time tears came up in the conference.
Danny Meisinger was also the guy who broke the news to me that Don Reitz
had passed away. He said, “Don’t be sad. Reitz lived a great life, he
died in the company of his friend (and heroic clay artist) Jun Kaneko
and family by his side. He said, ‘I’m gunna go lay down for a while’ and
that’s exactly what he did. Death is just another path.” I still went
to my car and balled like a little kid. Why did his death hit so hard?
Maybe it was seeing him go through 2 wheelbarrows of clay in 2 days
during a 2009 workshop in Flagstaff, AZ. Maybe it was meeting Christa
Assad at that same workshop, where we had both had been so moved by his
slide lecture that we were brought to tears.

Don Reitz Throwing, 3 Images, Joel Cherrico Pottery, Abstract Expressionism in Clay, Flagstaff AZ

Don Reitz Workshop, Flagstaff AZ, photos by Joel Cherrico

Christa Assad Facebook, Don Reitz, Joel Cherrico, NCECA 2014 
it was the fact that I was talking about Reitz with Christa earlier
that day- all on Facebook! Or the fact that Reitz had zero pots at NCECA
that year, and Christa couldn’t attend because she’s recovering from
the fire that burnt down her studio. Either way, the experience of Reitz
passing away was powerful, and we shared some powerful moments, even
though it was only on Facebook.
Christa Assad Facebook NCECA 2014 Joel Cherrico Pottery
people I meet on social media are really the same people when you meed
them in person. It’s kind of amazing.” – Carole Epp.
Carole gave me a huge hug at NCECA when I first met her.
The last day, emerging artist Renee Brown
started her presentation with a great quote from Reitz. I frantically
wrote it down. I think it encapsulates his life as an Abstract
Expressionist in clay, and his love of NCECA:
Don Reitz Quote, NCECA 2014 Closing Lecture, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014
The conference ended and I wandered over the Milwaukee “Historic Third
Ward” to walk around the Marshall building…….which has over 20 galleries
inside! I wandered in and out of the Timothy Cobb Fine Art Gallery
and struck up a conversation with the owner, Tim. I pulled out my
leather bound journal to ask Tim questions and jot down answers.
As we spoke, both of his NCECA exhibiting artists walked in- a local Milwaukee sculptor Carrie Chimenti and Stephanie Rozene, Associate Professor at Hartwick College, followed by 5 of her students.
Then Tim said, “Joel I know a great BBQ place, you’re coming to dinner with us, I’m buying.”
Next came beers, whiskey, BBQ, and two hours of deep conversation
about the professional art world. The artists were kind enough to buy my
meal and drinks and let me give them pottery from my car as a thanks.
As Tim left he said, “Keep writing in that journal, people will keep
inviting you places.”
So how can an emerging artist stand out
among the thousands of postcards, world class ceramics and crowds of
diehard clay folk? I think the key is not to stand out, but to join the
Pottery Meme, Joel Cherrico Pottery Success Kid