Inspired by Nature

From my very first plate design of white oak leaves etched into red clay, to the rose plates, the sunflower plates, the dogwood plates, the cotton plates, and the pokeberry plates, it’s all been inspired by direct contact with nature. I’ve always drawn from life all the botanical southern beauties that fascinate me. For some reason, I like to draw them on plates so much better than on paper! In each season I collect specimens and have vases of them in front of me, to draw from life.

For years, I’ve returned to our native pokeberry again and again as a source of inspiration. This time of year, In August and September, it really stands out. Fat magenta and rose-colored stalks and branches arch up and out, loaded down with racemes of shiny purple berries with hot pink stems. It only gets better as fall approaches, with chartreuse and fuchsia colors coming on the leaves as the temperatures drop. In every stage, the form and colors are beautiful, but in the fall they are regal and ebullient and so full of life. They have lovely lines and symmetries that make them so much fun to draw, so I have always enjoyed drawing them on my pottery.

I’ve been through many modes and style and colors of representing pokeberry beauty over the years, but this year I think I’ve really hit on the best one! A few months ago I started experimenting with underglazes. What that means is, instead of painting on 8 coats of white glaze onto already-fired pottery to make our ‘cotton’ color, and then etching the drawing-in and then applying even more glaze, now I get a piece of unfired pottery, or greenware, and use a big brush to paint 2-3 coats of a cream colored slip onto the surface. Slip is just watered down clay mixed to the consistency of thick cream. That way, I get a white background with only 2-3 coats, instead of 8. Once the slip dries, I etch the drawing onto the surface with a needle tool. Then I paint all the little stems and berries and leaves with underglaze, which is just clay mixed with pigment. I only put a couple of coats of underglaze, then I clean up the edges and scratch in the final details, like the veins of the leaves.

After all that, it goes into a kiln for the first time! When it comes out, I brush 2 coats of clear on the front and the back and fire it again. Only when it comes out of the glaze firing can you see whether the slip you put on at first was thick enough to cover the red clay completely. On the first batch of plates, I discovered I had applied it too thinly. The terra cotta color was showing through in places and it looked like an old wall, but I soon fell in love with the texture and aged quality it added to the design. Plus, the colors went perfectly with the colors of the pokeberry. It looked better than I could have ever planned it, so, low and behold, a new pokeberry plate was born!!

It’s fitting that I should come up with the best pokeberry design in our 30th anniversary year. Thirty years of studying, creating, and sharing southern beauty.

 

 

Rebecca's newest Pokeberry Collection is now available in-store, and will launch online September 2021. 

Herstory: Seasons and Images

As you all know by now, I’ve always been a nature girl. My childhood was spent freely exploring hillsides, woods, creeks and rocks outside of Atlanta, so I am attuned to the seasons, and the signs of their progress. I love having four distinct seasons. I love how the weather, the temperature, and the flora all provide a frame for our memories of different occasions and holidays. I love the different color pallets and the unique moods inspired by the rich, visual tableau of each season. Our pottery colors, and our whole vibe, has always been inspired by the ever changing and lush colors of the south.

I try to keep people in mind of the seasons and share with them what we find so inspiring in our part of the world. So as long as I’ve had R.Wood Studio, we’ve had seasonal photo shoots. We’d gather our current color scheme of dishes and plenty of fun props, take armloads of tablecloths and baskets of fruit, and decamp to some chosen quaint or rustic beauty spot for a day of shooting. Once there, we forage for wild branches and grasses to add to the mix. I’ve stopped on on the side of many a dirt road to clip some foliage branch or "weeds" on the way to a photo shoot. There’s nothing more fun than styling tabletops in a quaint cabin with wonderful props, foliage, food, flowers, and friends. Add gorgeous natural light and you’re bound to have inspired results. All our photo needs for the upcoming season are thus fulfilled in one creative day. We’ve been doing this for years, and it’s always so much fun.

Of course, to capture all that you need a photographer with a good eye, and we started with the best. Very early on, Rinne Allen came to me and applied for a job. She was already a fan, having grown up in Athens, and started collecting our plates while in high school. After graduating from college, she came to the studio to see if there were any jobs. During the interview I discovered her degree was from Sewanee, which is where I also went for my first year and a half. It also happens to be one big beauty spot, so I knew we shared an appreciation for natural beauty. She had majored in photography, but was up for anything she could do at the studio. I didn’t have the money to hire her, but I knew I wanted her around, so I hired her anyway. Rinne ended up doing every job there is to do at R.Wood Studio, from making the plates, to glazing them, to marketing and managing, and all the while honing her budding and prodigious photographic talents around the studio. We used Rinne’s beautiful photography for all our postcards, catalogs, and other promotions for years. She has a knack for capturing what’s mysterious and moving about our kind of southern beauty, so it was a perfect fit. Now her pictures grace multiple books, and her pictorial essays can be seen in the New York Times. Rinne’s photography all those years helped make R.Wood Studio what it is today: a brand synonymous with beauty. We’ve always been about beauty, and working with someone who sees it so deeply has been a wonderful thing.

Side Paths / Beauty Everyday

In any business, you meet people who both instruct and inspire you in ways you never thought about before. I met many such interesting people when I represented the studio at trade shows in New York for 16 years. One person I met was Zazel Loven who, at the time, was the editor of Country Living magazine, which was really popular then. Zazel was there to cover the gift show and see what was new. We met and became friends. She loved our pottery and used it many times in the magazine. One day, over lunch, I was going on about some of my ideas, and she suddenly asked me if I’d ever thought of starting a magazine. Well, I hadn’t, but since she mentioned it, my brain got fired up, and by the next morning, I had the whole thing worked out: what the topics of interest would be, story ideas, and titles for all the sections. I was so excited by the possibility, but at the same time I had a feeling there would be too many deadlines involved for my taste. Still, I really wanted to share my stories and ideas and concepts about beauty and art and living in the south. We discussed it around the studio as a possible newspaper or publication, and finally Rinne Allen said, "Why don’t we do it on our website?" - which was a great idea. 

We had a new website, so we added a topic called "Ideas for Creative Living," which was a more or less quarterly series of photo essays and stories about the south and the artists who create there, and a celebration of seasonal southern food. It was such a side project that even just getting it together quarterly was often a challenge. And with all the effort being put into it, studying the visitation stats told us hardly anyone was visiting this part of our website. That’s when Rinne had her next great idea; we’d take it off the R.Wood website and make it it’s own website, or blog, as they called them then! Our motto at the studio has always been "Beauty Everyday" and so that became the name of our blog. Each day of the week was a different focus, much like the chapter headings in my original magazine idea. We had recipes, tours of beauty spots and mystery spots, and always the beauty to be found along the roadsides in the south. I finally was able to share with the whole world the beauty of the place I was raised up in.

 

 

 

Still hungry to share more, we started talking about how wonderful it would be to just have a big seasonal picture book of photos gleaned from our 7 years of photo essays on the blog. Rinne Allen, Kristen Bach and I had hundreds of our photos to choose from. We decided the world needed to see it and so we bit the bullet and produced our own book: a big, beautiful blue tome with silver embossed pokeberries on the cover. Inside were all the textures and visions of the south that had always inspired us. We were lucky that Anthropologie placed a huge order right off the bat to help pay down the bill. That was in 2012. Now, the Beauty Everyday book is as poignant and inspiring as ever, and still available today. A treasure for anyone who knows and loves the south, and it may not have come about if not for my friend Zazel asking me a crazy question at a New York gift show where I was just there to sell pottery. 

Click here to purchase your copy of Beauty Everyday: 365 Pages of Southern Beauty 

Good Company

Back when I was a teenager watching "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in the movie theater, if you had told me then that in the future, Robert Redford, the Sundance kid, would endorse my handmade coffee mugs in a national publication, I would have thought that as unbelievable and improbable as if you’d told me I was going to live on the moon. But it happened!

Robert Redford bought a large parcel of wilderness in Utah and started Sundance Resort there in 1969. His vision was to get creative people in nature. He always admired artists and the work that goes into creating. In 1978, he started the Sundance Film Festival.  His Sundance catalog grew out of the popularity of the general store situated at the resort, stocked with one of a kind and handcrafted items. The first catalog went out in 1989. I had always seen and admired the catalog because the things in it were so well made and beautifully shot, but I never dreamed we’d be in it!

Fast forward to 2007. We had been showing our wares at gift shows in Atlanta, New York, L.A. and San Francisco for 3-4 years with our rep, Karen Alweil. It was in San Francisco that a buyer from Sundance catalog first spotted our dishes and placed the first order. Ever since then, we have had a long and wonderful relationship with the folks at Sundance catalog. It’s hard to remember but back in 2007 print was still king, and any way you could get into a magazine was a chance for free exposure far and wide. Well, Sundance was even better than being in a magazine, because it was always tasteful and beautiful, and went to mailboxes all over America on a regular basis, thereby promoting us year round. In one issue, Robert Redford even talked about how satisfying it was to drink his morning coffee out of a handmade mug, and there was his picture, right next to a full page pic of our Latte Cup! They always took such great pics of our pottery, and have used it on the cover a couple of times. All in all, they make us look good! There’s no telling how many people discovered R.Wood Studio through that catalog.

Sundance has always been aware that working with artists is not the same as working with factories. If we got into equipment snafus or got overwhelmed for other reasons where we just got behind on orders, they were always understanding and willing to work with what we could do. Their orders were so large that one order could keep us busy for weeks, and sometimes, when other orders were slim, Sundance was what kept us going. I will always be grateful for the big part they have played in the success of R.Wood studio. They are truly good company.

Persistence Pays Off

The first ten years of R.Wood Studio was a tale of constant growth - and being constantly behind on the bills. I had no credit and couldn’t get a loan. As mentioned before, it was a lot of financial stress, but only made worth it by the fact that our product was successful. At the end of every year, exhausted, I would ask myself, “Can I do this another year?” On one hand was the fact that I had no real job skills and was looking at getting a minimum wage job if this didn’t work out. Then I always looked at the investment of time and effort I had put in so far. Knowing next to zero about business and finance, I had never figured out what would get us to the break even point, but I figured if we had a successful product it would eventually float our boat.

 

In 2000, around our tenth year, we did three huge things that we were sure would finally tip the economic scale in our favor. We got our first website up, after many nerve wracking delays and frustrating disappointments. We also designed and printed ourselves a wonderful color catalog to send out to stores. It was so different and appealing. Lastly, we decided to apply for a booth at the New York gift show, which, at the time, was notoriously hard to get into, and usually a waiting list. Well, there was a jury for the handmade section, and my fellow crafter friend, Crispina, who I hadn’t met yet, told the committee, "This is exactly the kind of thing we need in this show!" and so we got in on the first try. Everybody knew that when you went to the New York show, you got thousands of dollars worth of wholesale orders. It was the big time. I was confident we’d finally hit the big time and would soon be in the black.

 

Well, a few months after all that got going, I looked at the finances. We were still desperately low on cash and the stress level was still the same. I got so depressed. I just couldn’t anymore. I went home, (which was across the street), and just didn’t come back. I set up my painting gear on the front porch and went back to painting still lives. I just didn’t have any more energy to put into R.Wood studio. Thankfully, everyone pitched in and carried on all the work. They tried to get me to come over a couple of times, but I couldn’t even walk across the street. I was spent.

 

After 3-4 months, I decided I had to pull myself out of it, and realized there were things I could do to help the business along that didn’t require enthusiasm on my part, they just needed doing. I can’t for the life of me remember what those things were, but it was probably basic p.r. stuff; sending out press releases and such. I made a list and checked everything off, and sure enough, it generated some business and some ideas, and made me feel better. So I went back to work, and you know what? Soon after, we finally started making enough money! I finally could get and cash a regular paycheck! There were still a few rocky periods here and there in the years since, but I’ve been able to live off making things people love and enjoy for a long time now. One of my mottos has always been "Persistence pays off," and I am SO glad I persisted with R.Wood studio!