When I was a little girl, I never knew I would grow up to be a potter, let alone one with a successful pottery business lasting decades. I was just a shy, introverted soul who loved being outside in the woods, or else in my room reading or drawing pictures. My first ambition was to be an egyptologist and discover a new pyramid. Then I wanted to be a weather girl, and spent hours at the bedroom window studying clouds and weather books, looking for signs of tornados. Soon, I got into a phase of doing pen and ink and watercolor drawing fairies and ferns and, later, designing fashionable outfits for ladies. I decided to become a fashion designer, but the more I thought about all the deadlines involved, I thought better of it. after that, by the time I was 14 or so, I just decided my general direction would be artist.
I always loved making things, whether sock puppets, barbie outfits, troll houses, embroidery, stained glass, or homemade mincemeat, but I’d always been a drawer, so I decided to go to art school. I studied drawing and painting at the University of Georgia in the heyday of the art department. Even though the art dept. was right above the pottery department downstairs, I never even went down there! Of all the crafts and things you can make, I just wasn’t interested in pottery. At the craft fairs I often visited, it seemed like all the pottery I saw was either an uninspiring brown, or this (to me) bone chilling shade of blue grey. I was not turned on. My whole world was about color.
Ideas often pop into my head, and I have no idea where they come from. When was about 17, the new Neiman Marcus opened at Lenox Square Mall and it seemed like the most sleek, swanky and modern store I’d ever seen. I was enthralled and immediately had a vision of selling hand painted tea sets there. I could see them displayed on pedestals! The years went by, and when my daughter was one year old, I saw an ad in the paper for a lady teaching china painting in a nearby town. My Neiman Marcus dream came back to me and I signed up. China painting is a painstaking process, and I had to paint and fire many times to get the colors as saturated as I envisioned them. Still, I enjoyed it and came to love the idea of making something people would really use and enjoy every day. Unfortunately for my china painting career, I found it is not at all a durable surface for daily use. I decided then, that I really wanted to create plates in pretty colors that would be durable, but it was years before I got to it.
After art school, I had a painting career going for about 10 years. I painted still life in oil and loved it. I started out with exhibitions wherever it was free to have one, like churches, bank lobbies, and libraries. I also had ‘art parties’ at friends homes in Atlanta. They would take down all their art and I would hang mine, and then they would throw a cocktail party and invite their friends over. I’d sell some paintings and get commissions, too. Everything was going swimmingly till October 1987. I was having a show at the Swan Coach house gallery in Atlanta. There were several red dots on the paintings already, and I was hoping for more to sell, but then there was a stock market crash. All the red dots disappeared, and I knew I needed to switch asap to something with lower price points!
I tried making costume jewelry, painting furniture, and painted clothing. Finally, I ended up painting yards of velveteen, loving the rich colors and soft textures. I made some hats and matching scarves and sold as many as I could make locally. My friend and shop owner from D.C.,Nancy Lenved, kept telling me I ought to sell them in New York. I didn’t know anything about how to go about that, but she kept telling me about these two stores she could picture them in, called Barney’s, and Zona. I did not know these were the two most fashionable stores in New York! This was 1990. Nancy was so sure about it that I called Barney’s and Zona and asked who their hat buyer was. I got the information and made some little notebooks with pictures of the hats and fabric swatches, along with prices. Barney’s ordered right away, featuring my products in huge ads in the New York Times! I was all of a sudden in business, but I didn’t even know how to write an invoice yet! The buyers at Zona loved the pictures I sent and ordered some hand painted velveteen and children’s hats I made. They told me if I was ever in New York to come see them. Well, I told my sister who lives in New York that I was coming to visit, then I called Zona and told them I would be in town.
Meanwhile, right before this, I had decided to go ahead and try to make some durable plates to sell. I ordered some red clay (because it’s what I grew up with) and some colorful low fire glazes. My friend, Nancy, bought me a used kiln at a yard sale for $200, and I got to work. All I had was a table, a rolling pin, and a kiln, but I made some shapes I liked and came up with some designs of fruits, flowers and oak leaves. As I was packing my little suitcase with hat samples to show to Zona, I threw in a few of the new plates. When I got to Zona, we were upstairs in their offices and I was showing them my samples and I pulled the plates out. Their buyer for Japan took one look at them and briskly turned on her heel and left the room, without saying a word. I felt I’d somehow made a bad impression, but then she marched back in and handed me an order for $1500 worth of them! It was so many that I had to get my friends to come over and help me glaze! Soon, Barney’s was ordering plates, too, and I saw I was going to need employees. I hired my first employee in 1991, and r.wood studio was born!