August’s Potter of the Month, Amelia Stamps is a kind and dear friend. I’ve known Amelia and her husband since 2003. At the time, Amelia was beginning her career as a full-time potter while her husband attended graduate school. I’ve always admired Amelia’s career path…the pursuit of self-employment immediately following undergraduate school.
Amelia’s pots are sweet, whimsical and a delight to use. Her craft is impeccable. I covet her glaze combinations (opaque matte next to transparent glossy)…both of which break beautifully over her forms.
Enjoy the interview!
How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education? Since an early age, clay has held a special place in my heart and served as an integral symbol of my personal narrative. In the 1970’s my parents were potters in Pinehurst, North Carolina. When I was three they split up and as circumstances had it, I only knew my father through using his pots in our house. When I entered high school I took the “pottery & sculpture” class offered and immediately felt connected to my parent’s past, especially my father’s. It was a very touching thing to be working clay as he had done.
Growing up in North Carolina only reinforced the inherent value placed in ceramics and the craft world as a whole. My mother, Lynn Daniel, ran a gallery and worked as a jeweler in Asheville, NC. When I was young my mom would take me to the Southern Highland Craft Guild shows where I would buy handmade doll clothes, toys and even pottery. I remember how proud I was of those well made objects. Looking back, my North Carolina roots played a crucial role in my love for craft and enabled me to see the rich effect it can have on individuals and society.
As my passion for ceramics grew in college I declared a BFA in Art Studio instead of Art Education, which I had initially leaned towards. I attended several colleges in North Carolina before finding the right fit at UNC-Asheville, a small liberal arts school in my hometown.
How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics? It was a great time to experiment with different types of firing processes and develop an idea of which temperature and method in which I wanted to work. My art instructors helped reinforce and strengthen my direction in clay. I was exposed to a wealth of visiting artists and an opportunity for dialogue. Also, I was lucky to work with some very motivated peers who taught me that a strong work ethic is essential to making the work that you desire.
You took a year off in undergraduate school and worked as an apprentice for a potter. How did this experience help shape your career? What advice could you offer someone wanting to be an apprentice? For me this experience was essential. It gave me motivation and skills that I wouldn’t necessarily get from a school setting. I remember on the first day I started working for David Voorhees, he had me trim a shelf of his porcelain vases. My thoughts were, “I can’t believe he trusts me, I have never really trimmed before!” Over the year that I assisted in his studio I learned how a production studio runs from the making, glazing, firing and selling of work. Much of what I absorbed is what I now practice in my own studio today.
I continued to work for artists throughout school and even afterwards gaining a different perspective from each. They all were so gracious with their time and energy. Many of them sold retail, wholesale, or a mixture of both. I have modeled my business to be one that is reliant on both retail and wholesale finding that it is a good balance.
How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas? New ideas come after working a good stretch in the studio. I love reaching that creative flow when one decision leads to the next. Pots usually start as drawings or a daydream, sometimes inspired by something I have seen or experienced. Recently, I have been struck by paper embossing. I look forward to experimenting with colored slips and see where that leads me.
What does a typical workday look like for you? These days, with two little kiddos, my workdays are 3 days a week when they are in daycare. When preparing for a show I will find time to work in the early hours of the morning or at night after the kids are in bed. I prefer to work late at night, but I always pay for it the next day.
A typical workday begins with getting the girls to “school”. If I have time I will exercise or go on a quick walk. Making work for an upcoming show, filling existing orders or shipping usually fills my day. At lunch I will usually make time to return emails, etc. Then work until dinner/family time.
I’m intrigued by the CSA(rt) program you participated in through the Lexington Art League? Can you talk a little bit about the program and how you got involved? The Lexington Art League is using an exciting model of fundraising by commissioning 9 local artists to create a limited edition series of 50 works for their CSA (Community Supported Arts) program. Much like your local farmer’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), each “harvest” collection changes seasonally. It is a model that encourages and supports local artists, art buying, as well as, excites the collector’s experience. The best part is the “harvest party” when collectors and artists get a chance to connect.
It was fun working on this project. I made a series of “white on white” cups and ended up collaborating with another artist on a few of her sculptures.
You’re actively involved in the craft fair circuit. What kind of advice can you give to someone wanting to sell their work at retail fairs? Be prepared and start small. Participate in a few smaller shows to gain experience and to tweak your booth set-up. If you choose to do outdoor shows, invest in a good tent (one with interlocking poles). If you can, visit the show beforehand to see if it is the right venue for you and your work. Talk with other artists…. they are your best resource! Have professional images taken of your work. Lastly, create a good mailing list and keep in touch about upcoming shows and events. My mom engrained this step in me after hours of handwriting postcards to her customers over the years (before email).
Which marketing venue(s) (website/social media sites /galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work? All these seem to work together to help promote one another. I look at participating in a craft fair, home sales, having work in galleries, posting work on FB or Etsy all as great advertising. My income consists roughly of 50% retail, 40% wholesale and 10% consignment. I find that I do best when I can meet my customer face to face and tell them about my work. Connecting you to your audience in a direct way fulfills something genuine inside of us. Do what feels right and don’t give up after a lousy show.
You moved to Kentucky when your husband got hired at UK. Not being from the area, you have been able to build a local following from the ground up and have now been operating Stamps Pottery for over 10 years. What were the most important steps you took to market your work to your local audience? I got a lot of practice setting my studio up in three different states while my husband, Hunter Stamps, was perusing his MFA and beginning teaching. I feel fortunate to have had each experience so that I was prepared when we moved to KY to start right back up. Right away I connected to our Kentucky Arts Council, joined the local potter’s club, applied to all the craft guilds in our region and located the major shows within 5 hour driving distance.
Your work is in numerous retail galleries across the country. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer someone wanting to approach galleries for representation? I have attended multiple wholesale trade shows over the past 8 years and found that you have little control over which galleries purchase your work. I have developed good relationships with some key craft galleries that keep reordering (thankfully) and there are some that have only ordered once. The fit has to be just right. Have professional images to send galleries (if you are lucky they will use them in promotions).
Get your work out there. Apply to the shows and galleries you want to be in. Galleries tend to comb the craft fairs to find new work. Make sure you stand out in some unique fashion.
As a mother of two young girls, how are you able to balance parenthood and studio business? Being a good potter, mother and wife is a constant balancing act, full of challenges and joy. Our life is full right now and there is always more to be done, but I can see it settling, as the girls get older. I chose to have my studio at home, which has been a good decision, even if I get out in the studio for a few minutes to check something or turn up a kiln. My husband’s work schedule usually falls opposite of mine so that he can be super Dad when I am away at a show on weekends. It has been helpful to keep a joint calendar so that we can schedule each week. Since kids, I have had an intern in the studio helping with tasks in exchange for studio space and materials.
Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living? If you are interested in becoming a potter I think it is so important to work under someone in the field. This will allow you more time to learn the mechanics and daily routine of a potter firsthand. Branch out and work in many studio situations to pick up different ways of working.
I am a person motivated by deadlines so having orders and due dates gives me structure that I need to stay active in the studio. Find the structure that works for you. Give yourself time and space to develop. Place yourself around supportive peers and work hard towards your goals. Take advantage of all the free resources within your grasp. Connect with other artists and arts organizations. Make sure you stop and have a little fun along the way!
For more information about Amelia and her work, please visit the links below: