Potters’ Skin Butter Featured Artist: Lori Theriault
Lori, we met when you were at Odyssey studios around 2009. I don’t know much before that. Tell me about your path to where you are today at The Village Potters. Where/how did you get your start in pottery?
“I like to joke that the first time I touched clay was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, when our class went on an excursion to dig clay from a stream bed, most of which we ended up throwing at each other across the stream. We used the rest of the clay to make small medallions, carving designs in pieces of plaster to use as a stamp. I still have mine!
“From there, I had a very circuitous route back to clay that included working in restaurants, driving an ice cream truck, working in a law firm mail room, talent agent, event coordinator, theatrical stage and production manager, and office manager for a corporate production company. It was during that last job, in Washington DC, that I took my first formal pottery class. I knew from that first class that I wanted to spend more time in the studio, and less time in the office. One class a week became two, then I joined the studio assistant program, assisting the Master Potter and other teachers, and learning the various jobs of running a teaching clay studio. I completed my Apprenticeship there by working for a year as Studio Manager before relocating to Asheville. That was the first year of my work as a full-time clay professional.
“I decided to move to Asheville to be in a better market for both further education and as a place to potentially make a living with my pottery. I moved to Asheville, and liquidated a small 401(k) to help me be in the studio every day. A few months after arriving and setting up studio at Odyssey, I was offered a Residency, and for the next 12-18 months, I was able to attend multiple classes and workshops, learning a variety of techniques from a long list of teaching potters. It was the best working education I could have hoped for, and at the end of my Residency I opened my own working and teaching studio.
“After three years of enduring ‘recession woes’, I had to close that studio location. I spent several months borrowing studio space and renting kilns, before I settled into a sublet at Riverview Station. It was here that the building owner, Helaine Greene, told me about a group of women who were building out a pottery studio in the front of the building, and she said that I should approach them about teaching in their classrooms. I was incredibly impressed that, although they had many months of build out and rehab before they could open, they had already hung a “Coming Soon: The Village Potters” sign for all to see. They were also holding weekly meetings to keep each other informed of all developments.
I dropped in on one of those meetings to introduce myself, and the rest, as they say, is history!
“I was invited to join as a founding member of The Village Potters and moved in with them in late summer of 2011. I taught wheel classes for three years, and I now serve as the Marketing Director, and as a Mentor for the Independent Study & Mentoring Program. While I am dedicated to the continued growth and success of The Village Potters, I also maintain Crazy Green Studios, for the clients I had when I joined, and as I develop it as a production company dedicated to making wares for restaurants and food professionals.”
Where did the name Crazy Green Studios come from?
“In the DC studio, there is a copper-based glaze called ‘Crazy Green’. It was named such because it had a range of effects – from a kind of turquoise blue/green to a black, oxidized copper, and sometimes even streaks of pink from copper flashing. I love that glaze, and when I started selling pots at shows, and people kept asking me what I would name my studio, I picked Crazy Green Studios in honor of my favorite glaze at the time.”
What do you enjoy most about living in Asheville? How has Asheville influenced your work?
“There are so many things I love about living in Asheville! Being from Vermont, I love that we also have four mostly distinct seasons, but that we don’t suffer from extended periods of discomfort in any extreme season – the coldest it gets in the winter just doesn’t last as long as it does in Vermont, and for a southern city, the hottest summer periods are also relatively short. The mountain breezes, and being able to actually get to the mountains or lakes easily is such a gift, even if I usually only take advantage of it when people visit.
“I think Asheville has influenced my work in allowing me to maintain my own personal mission to make work that has some meaning to me, and to find and work with clients who feel as passionately about what they do and truly understand the benefit of small batch, hand crafted work.
“As well, Asheville is a city filled with small business entrepreneurs, which give me inspiration and have been a great source for my own clientele. For example, I walked into Sensibilities Day Spa with a friend some six years ago and loved the whole feel of the place. While there I noticed that they sold aromatherapy diffusers, and prodded by my friend, I asked if they might be interested in having handmade diffusers. They said yes, I returned about a month later with a prototype, and that was the first in a line of items I would design and make for them. We’ve moved on from the diffusers, but they continue to be a cherished client. There is something about the spirit of Asheville that makes those types of interactions more plausible.”
On a recent Thursday, Lori Theriault invited me to come along as she did her pottery deliveries. First up, we went to the Pink Dog Creative Studios in the River Arts District. Outside the studios, we were greeted by clay and mosaic artist Holly deSallian watering the raised beds with a small bright plastic vessel shaped like a fish that spilled water out of its mouth. Holly and Lori enthusiastically greeted each other. Lori mentioned how she has been loving the new floors in Holly’s house made out of salvaged bleachers from Asheville Middle School. I asked how Lori knew about the floor, and of course -being the social media maven that she is- Lori said she saw a picture on Instagram. I now follow Holly, too.
We walked in to Studio A, and met up with mixed-media artist Andrea Kulish. Her studio was filled with beautiful lamps, prints, and handmade greeting cards, but I was most impressed by her intricately detailed Ukrainian pysanky eggs. Andrea showed me a bit of the process (Lori had already taken a class with her), which involves a taper candle, a little colored beeswax, a steady hand, and an amazing patience. Indicating the pointillism goose egg which had hundreds of multicolor dots, Andrea said, “That’s the design I do when I don’t want to think about anything.” Andrea explained that the dots represent stars, but also seed scatter- a sort of micro-macro concept. Every symbol she uses has a meaning.
Lori makes custom ceramic egg cups to display Andrea’s pysanky eggs- from the chicken size to the goose size. We were dropping off a set of these. I could feel the spark in the air as Andrea checked out the new batch of egg cups and raved about them and Lori raved about Andrea’s new egg designs. Lori and Andrea both share a love of working with and supporting other local artists and enriching the collaborative community that exists in Asheville’s art scene. And beyond that- they were just so excited to see each other!
What is the most satisfying part of your process?
“That’s a good question, and I think the answer may change depending on what part of my production cycle is happening. I think a lot of my greatest satisfaction ties back into my love of cooking. In reality, at that first day of class, while I was being shown around, what struck me was the realization that I would be making pottery ‘from scratch’. I knew, intellectually, that I would be working with my hands, but seeing over a dozen people working at the wheel, in various stages of creation, it really struck me that I would be touching every molecule of clay when I made pieces.
“The next thing I noticed was what they were making: plates, bowls, cups, platters, mugs, bakers … everything I made I would be able to use in the kitchen. I started imagining things I wanted to cook and serve in pottery, and pots that I wanted to make for foods I love. It’s always been intricately connected that way, and whether I’m noodling with a new idea on my own, or talking with a chef about how he or she might want to use a piece, that intention is in my mind when I’m at the wheel (or slab roller) creating a piece.
“Just as I put a lot of love into food when I cook it, thinking about the people I’m sharing it with and/or perhaps a special occasion, I think about how a finished piece of pottery will be used, and even the foods it might hold. In this way, really each step of the process holds great satisfaction: creating a new piece on the wheel has real, physical results. Trimming and finishing a piece reveals the character and personality of a piece, and through decorating and glazing, I’m giving it those final touches that may not be obvious in the form itself. Even opening a kiln has that satisfaction, as I’m holding warm pots in the same hands that first held a piece of raw clay – I may not be fully meditating on each of those steps each and every time I handle each and every piece of clay and finished pot, but I work to maintain that intention within me. I never want to take for granted what I am able to do, nor the fact that I get to work with so many other creative people in the process, whether it’s in collaboration on making a pot, or in collaboration with the person using the finished product.”
I love your tagline “Homemade Tastes Better on Handmade.” How did that come about?
“I began using “Homemade Tastes Better on Handmade” a number of years ago. First, it was a cute little toss-in line to use at shows, and then, when I began a food-related blog, I used that for the name. It brings together the two worlds I love most – food and pottery – and it says in just a few words what I now hold as a personal philosophy.”
Lori and I hopped back in the car and headed to a restaurant that has been famous with foodie locals and tourists alike since it opened in 2011. We headed up South Lexington Avenue to the service entrance of the Spanish tapas restaurant, Cúrate. We were taken in the back door and I could see everyone working in the bright sparkling clean kitchen down the hall. We met up with front of house Manager Mark Baker and Lori dropped off her June delivery of 200 lucky three-legged pig toothpick holders. Have you heard of these little pigs yet? They are quite the sensation! People are even tweeting pictures of them. At first, the lucky three-legged pig toothpick holders were used to hold toothpicks on the tables at Cúrate. The problem was some people were stealing them! Now, they are secured to each table with a little note that says, “Don’t steal me. You can buy me.” And buy they have. Demand has shot up since Lori started making them in 2013. That year, Lori delivered around 1,300 pigs (around 100 pigs a month). For July 2017, Lori has an order for 300 pigs. Despite multiple requests for online ordering of the three-legged piggies, they remain available for purchase only in person at Cúrate.
How did you begin making lucky three legged pigs for Cúrate and how has your process evolved?
“I approached someone I knew at the restaurant about being considered for any handmade pottery needs. I tend to solicit my business accounts with those businesses I like to frequent, and I was already a huge fan of the restaurant. I was thrilled when I received an email from one of the owners, but honestly never expected it to be about making these little piggies! I was given a sample of what they were using, along with the freedom to re-interpret the design so that I could create a good production model. I made multiple ‘pinch pot’ versions to test out various clay bodies, and began looking at how I could produce what was then an average of about 100 per month. The production process, as well as the finished look of the pigs, has evolved over the years to the current end product.
“What started as a pinch pot now begins on the wheel, with other parts extruded and then shaped before being attached. It’s very gratifying that so many people who visit Cúrate want to buy a little piggie as a reminder of the incredible experience they have at the restaurant. Now we make double, and sometimes even triple the original amount to keep up with that demand. I say “we” because over the years I have been able to offer part time employment to a variety of clay artists, and am in the process of training a new team to keep up with demand during the busy summer tourist season.”
Back in 2009, I remember seeing you at Roots Cafe and we were both addicted to those delicious quinoa hushpuppies. I remember being impressed that they served food on your pottery. Every dish was marked with a stamp with the Roots logo. Since then, you’ve made branded pottery for many businesses, including making displays for my Potters’ Skin Butter lotion. Was Roots the first place you did custom pottery for? Who else have you worked with?
“Ah, those hushpuppies! And I still miss that Breakfast Salad! Roots has such a special place in my heart – I first met the owner and talked about making service ware when he was in the planning stages of opening a restaurant. When he opened the Café, he commissioned large platters for the display, mugs for use and sale, and the service ware that held all the yummy goodness that came from that kitchen. This speaks back to my earlier point about the satisfying part of working with my hands – I knew that he and his staff had the same passion for what they were creating as I did in designing and making the pots for their use, and I had a maker’s satisfaction each and every time I enjoyed a meal there. While they were not the first “branded pottery” client - I had made branded coffee mugs for several other clients – they were the first to commission full service ware. Working with food professionals to create beautiful handmade items for their own beautiful and tasty creations is still my favorite thing to do.”
Our next stop was the brand-new West Asheville restaurant, Jargon. Lori had met with the chef and was following up to show him some samples of work that she had designed to show off Jargon’s innovative social continental cuisine. We came in through the front entrance and into a cozy little vestibule. I noticed the handcrafted details- colorful blown glass lighting fixtures and a gorgeous tile mosaic on the floor by owner Shelly Piper. The space is immaculately designed with every detail in mind. It has a distinctly mid-century modern feel with peppered with touches of handmade local art. There is a mural on canvas by local artist Jennifer Barrineau, tables made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes, and throwback 50s collage vignettes by Jon Arge.
Chef Matthew Miner was doing prep work for dinner service with pulsingly fresh shrimp and local sausage. He greeted us and he and Lori got to talking. Lori showed him plates of different sizes and shapes and he particularly liked her white glazed serving plate with organically shaped iron oxide and underglaze detail. As Matthew and Lori honed in on a decision, owner Sean Piper pulled Lori aside to the bar to show her something else he has in mind for his upcoming Sunday Blunch service (“Everyone else has brunch. We have Blunch.”). He described and sketched his idea for a very special cocktail and asked Lori if she could make a handmade custom pottery piece to fit exactly inside his hurricane glasses. This may sound like a simple request, but as I listened, I thought about how Lori would need to account for the shrinkage that happens with each and every ceramic piece. Some clays are said to shrink 10%, but it depends on moisture and the thickness of each vessel. It would take several tests to get the fit just right. Lori is a master at this kind of exacting custom work. Totally un-daunted, she agreed to design and make these special pieces. Sean ordered a couple dozen on the spot. Next, Sean finalized the restaurant service ware with the chef and placed an order for those pieces. Just as she made clear in our interview, Lori only works with restaurants that she loves to dine at. A true foodie, Lori loves to see her clients make their vision of working with local artists come true. And in the end, no one goes hungry.
Speaking of hungry, I was getting that way right about then. We said our parting words to Sean and Matthew and headed off to lunch, which was also our last delivery of the day. We drove just a block or two and parked on State Street, just across from Asheville’s famous brunch spot, Sunny Point. Ahead was our destination- 12 Baskets Café, located in the Kairos West Community Center below Firestorm Books. Lori carried in a large heavy box of mugs made and donated by The Village Potters. We were greeted at the door by Andy, a volunteer server who graciously accepted the gift of handmade pottery. The donated mugs are sold by 12 Baskets Café to raise money for its operations.
As we entered the café, I noticed a woman sitting in a folding chair getting healing work- another woman gently touching her temples. Lori led me inside and we passed a few boxes of donated produce and clothes on the right for patrons to take. There was a discreet donation box on the left, where anyone who wishes can donate money to cover overhead, even though, as a sign says, “The food is always free.” The room was filled with people sharing a meal together at the community style tables or relaxing in the small living room area. I was struck by the diversity of people in the room- a true mix of races that is rare in Asheville, a city that is around 82% white. There was also an apparent diversity of gender identity, sexuality, housing status, income, age and physical ability. The space reminded me of the ACRC- Asheville’s Community Resource Center of the 2000s that was relocated from Lexington Ave to Carolina Lane before being closed. It had served as a space where anyone was welcome- just as this space has become- to simply be, to escape the sun and the heat or the cold, or to read and be together and share conversation and company, without having to spend money. I am so glad there is a space like this again in Asheville and I felt very much at home there.
Lori led me to the drink station, where guests can pick a handcrafted mug (also donated by The Village Potters) and fill it with coffee or water. Then we proceeded to a table with empty seats. We met 2 women eating together and they were very friendly and asked about where Lori and I met, etc. We learned that these women were friends- one had picked the other up for a day out from where she is incarcerated. Soon someone came by and asked us what we’d like to eat. Lori and I ordered buttered chicken, curried vegetables, greens, and rice. Our food for the day had been donated by Mela Indian Restaurant. It was beautifully served on handcrafted pottery plates (by you guessed it- the Village Potters) and I enjoyed asking Lori who made each dish. As we ate our hearty portion of food, I commented to Lori that I loved the range of places that she makes pottery for. In one day, we had been from one of the most upscale restaurants in town to a place where anyone is welcome to eat for free. Lori said, “You’ve got to have balance.”
Indeed, food security is near and dear to Lori’s heart.
“As much as I love to cook and to share good food with others, food insecurity has also been something I’ve been involved with for a very long time. I think it goes back as far as when I was in school, and when I realized that I had friends who wouldn’t have had anything to eat if it weren’t for the school lunch program. In the grand scheme of social justice, I firmly believe that children can’t learn well, nor can adults focus on personal care, training, or jobs if they are hungry.
“In every city I’ve lived in, I’ve taken part in some form of supporting those with food insecurity. Mostly, it was cooking for soup kitchens and/or food pantries. When I moved to Asheville and began my Residency at Odyssey, I met John Hartom and his wife Lisa Blackburn, who began the first Empty Bowls event. He was helping lead an “Empty Bowls” class at Odyssey, where different teaching potters would demonstrate a variety of bowl making and decorating techniques each week, and all bowls made would be used in the Asheville area Empty Bowls event.
“I also served on the Board of ImagineRENDER, the non-profit behind Empty Bowls. For the Asheville event, everything is donated: Hilton properties donates the space, area restaurants and bakeries donate personnel, soups, breads, and cookies, and area potters provide over 1000 bowls each year for the event. MANNA FoodBank is the direct beneficiary, and with every dollar raised, they are able to create three meals. That means that every bowl sold for $35 creates 105 meals, and if I am able to make 50 or 100 bowls, I can help create 500 – 1000 or more meals for those in need across western North Carolina. My involvement has continued with The Village Potters, and now we as a studio help create hundreds of bowls for the annual event, as well as many donations for the “Collectors Corner” that sells larger works at retail prices, with all proceeds also going to MANNA FoodBank.”
What does the future hold for Crazy Green Studios?
“The future of Crazy Green Studios is continued growth, with more production work for restaurants and other food professionals. The growth of my studio over the past five years is in large part due to my continued participation in the Collective of The Village Potters. Being in such a collaborative environment with other artists who are as invested in each other’s success as their own, and with the support of shared space and equipment, has allowed me to steadily grow my business to the point where I now employ 3-4 subcontractors, and I am looking at the potential to expand my studio space so that I may set up dedicated areas for specific production work. The development and growth of The Village Potters’ Independent Study and Mentoring Program, as well as the future plans for Incubator Studio spaces are other areas where Crazy Green Studios may intersect to offer internships and Apprenticeships as the business grows.”
Learn more about....
Blog and recipes: http://homemadetastesbetter.blogspot.com/
The Village Potters:
Website and classes: http://thevillagepotters.com/
Andrea Kulish: http://www.ashevillestudioa.com/
12 Baskets Cafe: http://www.ashevillepovertyinitiative.org/new-page-1/
Originally published 6.20.17