Mountain Arts Musings
Encouragement13th of June, 2017
This week I went to a table at our restaurant where two ladies were having lunch. I knew one of them but not the other. The one I didn’t know was from Capetown, South Africa. She told me that she was in our store 2 years earlier and what she saw was so encouraging she went home and got out all her ceramic materials and started throwing again. She had studied Ceramics in school and had put away all of her materials for nearly a decade. I gave them a tour of our studio. As I told her our story, over and over she just kept thanking me for being such an encouragement to her.
Today a lady came by asking if I knew a certain person. I could remember her name but not anything else, then the customer told me that in 2002, this lady came to my studio and I gave her some clay and let her use my wheel and the studio. Today she is successfully making her living selling pots on the east coast.
It has been a blessing this week to see how God has allowed us to encourage someone in their pottery and their lives. I'm sure that there are others but in His wisdom we just get little glimpses of things so we don’t become proud, but enough so that we are encouraged to continue to reach out to others.
2017 Annual Oops! Sale11th of May, 2017
We collect this pottery over the year then, on Memorial Day, we put this pottery out at discounted prices and have our annual Oops! pottery sale. There are some incredible bargains for our customers, and we get to clear out our storage. This has become a very popular event that people look forward to. We set up our racks outside on the lawn on the Friday morning before Memorial Day and the sale is on Friday, Saturday, and Monday.
We start the sale at 8:00 am and continue each day until we close at 6:00 pm. Come down early, grab a cup of coffee, or enjoy a Waffle and Scrambled Egg special 8am-10am from The Coffee Pot Bakery Cafe. Browse the racks to find something special for yourself or to give as a gift. While it is true that "No one is perfect", it’s also true that "It's an ill wind that blows no good!" Both idioms are true for our annual Oops! Sale.
The 2017 Annual Oops! Sale will begin Memorial Day Weekend. Open Friday, May 26th, Saturday, May 27th & Monday, May 29th. (We will be closed Sunday, May 28th).
Change of Seasons11th of May, 2017
We have moved into production mode to build the inventory that will be needed this summer and are nearly finished with our Yellowstone National Park order as well as some other seasonal summer stores.
Summer is our busiest season, outside of the month of December, so as soon as we get our seasonal orders sent out, we try to build the inventory needed for our own store shelves as sales begin to increase.
The WEB becomes more active as summer arrives and people are thinking about special customized wedding gifts. Our goal is to ship more rapidly on the WEB orders, so having the inventory available helps make this a reality.
I remember years ago asking another potter who was a friend of mine, when he began his production for his busy Christmas season, and was shocked when he said that he starts in August. Having now done pottery for 37 years, I understand where he was coming from and we start working on product for the Store and the Kiosk around the end of the summer.
Kristy has been working for several years planting bulbs, fertilizing everything, and trimming back the overgrowth of the shrubs, and because of her hard work and green thumb, sitting in the back patio or in the front yard is beautiful, pleasant experience. We get many comments from our guests who enjoy her gifting.
The big anticipation that Jennie and I have is the arrival of summer residents, who will begin to come soon. We have just said good-by to those who are here for the winter activities and now it is time to say hello to our summer friends and visitors. It is amazing what kind of relationships can be built with people you see only three or four times a year. God has blessed Jennie and me with such great friends. Hopefully our store is about not just about the new friends we have made this week but also the ones we have known for years. I love the verse in the old song that goes, "Make new friends, but keep the old, the one is silver and the other gold." Thanks for being our silver and gold.
Growing Pains11th of April, 2017
After I had given my presentation I opened it up for questions. The first question out of the chute was not about our business plan or how we started but was, “I’ve been to your place; when are you going to expand your seating?" I explained that during the good weather we have an additional 50 seats outside, but to enlarge our 26 person indoor seating area was going to create a new problem called a parking garage and I didn’t exactly know where to build it! We have a cozy, warm atmosphere in our circa 1930s log building, but the constant tension in many businesses is how to maximize our sales and customer service while utilizing our space and the ambiance we’ve created.
Over the years we have added an additional 30 parking places out behind the store and studio. Customers who park in back can enter the store through the back patio door where our landscaper, Kristy, has created a beautiful seating area full of flowers. With our front lot parking and the 30 spaces out back, there is plenty of parking. Now all we need to do is figure out how to increase our indoor seating during the winter months!
A New Glaze Combination6th of March, 2017
Finding a new glaze and learning how to fire it, then combining it with the different glazes that we are already using is not an easy task.
The process begins by solidifying a glaze formula that has the colors we are looking for and then learning how to fire it. Is it a runny glaze or a semi matte? Just a few degrees in the firing temperature can cause a significant fluctuation in how the final product turns out.
Then there is the process of finding the other colors that the new glaze fits well with. We begin by selecting how the over dip will look on a particular pot. This is determined by which glaze is dipped on top of the other, so you start out with two choices. Dipping a white over a black turns out different than dipping a black over white. You have to test each possibility and then get consensus from everyone involved, listening to their opinion. Of course there are as many opinions as the number of people giving them! In the end, after we have listened to everyone, someone will have the final say on the glaze combination we are going to use.
Our newest glaze combination is a shiny white glaze over our popular charcoal. To eliminate the stress of choosing a name for it, it is simply called Charcoal White. We are thrilled with the way it has turned out, and the many samples that Tim, our Studio Manager, has put through the kiln have paid off with a clean, contemporary black and white product. Nick, our Store Manager, has just put together a nice display of pottery in this glaze. The next time you are in the store take a few moments and let us know what you think.
Local Montana Made Products2nd of February, 2017
We were still selling wholesale pottery, and had sold to a gift store in Colorado Springs. There was a time when Colorado Springs experienced a spate of disasters. They had floods and then wildfires. Our pottery customer called and told us that he was unable to pay for the pottery he had purchased. Being an honorable man, he offered to send us the equivalent of our pottery costs in handmade crosses that he created and sold in his store. Jennie was a little reluctant to give up the space it would require for his crosses, but we decided that he was trying to make it right and agreed to take his crosses to display in our store. It turned out that they were beautiful and sold so well that we sold out within two months! We have since placed dozens of orders with him and are still delighting our customers with his inlaid turquoise, one of a kind crosses.
Jennie loves scarves because she’s always chilly, so she found a supplier of beautiful scarves and we also added those to the store. A local soap maker supplies soaps and lotions. We now carry wooden hand carved spoons, Montana made jewelry, felted wall hangings, ceramic crosses and towels and scrubby sets. At Christmas time we bring in beautiful hand made mittens.
We've come a long way in the gift items available at the Mountain Arts store since we began fourteen years ago. Of course, pottery is still our customer’s favorite go-to item, but we strive to find new items for people to purchase for gifts and for their own homes as well. Jennie and our daughter Becky will be going to the Billings Market this week to see if there are new things to bring into the store, so keep tuned in to see what we might have coming in the spring!
A New Year a New Road9th of January, 2017
My regular orthopedic doctor couldn’t get me in, so they recommended that I go to their new Urgent Care facility. We were early, and being the day before Thanksgiving the doctor and the nurse had plenty of time to spend with Jennie and me. After a set of x-rays it was determined that I had just pulled a muscle.
I’ve never understood why nurses always take your vital signs, but fortunately they do and my heart rate, which is normally down to 75 or a little lower was pumping at 138 to 140 and I couldn’t get it to go down, even by just relaxing. After about an hour the doctor sent me to my primary doctor who did an EKG and then a chest x-ray. He determined that there was something over my heart that wasn’t there two years ago when I had my physical. The doctor’s fear was that it is an aneurism or an enlarged lymph node. He called the ER and sent me over in a wheelchair. After another EKG and then a CAT scan it was determined that I have follicular lymphoma. I think the amazing thing is that both Jennie and have continued to have great peace which I think was granted to us from God, as no one likes to hear that you have cancer.
I have since had a biopsy of the lymph node, a bone marrow biopsy, and a new test called a PET scan. All this to determine that I am in stage two, which denotes the spread rather than the aggressiveness or seriousness of the disease. It has not spread to my bones or below my diaphragm. I started treatment with a combination chemo and immune therapy with my next session being January 11, 2017.
I wanted to send all this info to let everyone know that because my white blood cells will be low for a portion of the time between treatments, I’m being restricted from being in public, as I am more susceptible to catching something. My treatment program is every 28 days for 6 months, depending on the success of the drugs. I plan to go to Arizona to the Lymphoma Center for a second opinion in the middle of January, so we can have another doctor looking at my symptoms.
As I travel this new road, it gives me the opportunity to watch God continue to direct our lives. His care is not just for the great circumstances, but He will travel with us in the difficult times as well. I look forward to what He has to teach me during this journey.
Let us be Thankful9th of December, 2016
With almost no training in the pottery business we launched Mountain Arts Pottery. There were two events that helped get the company going. The first was a little wall hanger that had a pottery bell incorporated into the design. It was very country and sold like hot cakes for several years.
Why this was so important in helping to launch our company is because of the number of bells that we were selling. The Lord helped me to throw fast and to use very soft clay. In the early days of throwing bells I wanted to be more efficient, so I used a timer. When I started, I was throwing a bell every minute and when I no longer needed to use the timer I was consistently throwing bells one every 13 seconds. Because I started the pottery business after taking twenty lessons from a local art center, I had much to learn, and the throwing techniques that I learned in creating bells I transferred and used in every item that I made on the wheel.
The other event that impacted us in starting the pottery business was the Holiday Festival of the Arts. It was, and still is, a craft show that raises money for the Help center which assists the homeless, the needy, and people who are suffering from domestic abuse.
This was the first craft show that we had ever applied for and the first place where we sold our pottery publicly. The show was a great success for us in two ways. Being in our own community, a lot of people knew us and were glad to see us at the show. We had owned an excavating business that went broke when the economy in the late 70s began to falter, and I think that people were glad to support us in another business. Our pottery was well received and at the end of the show we had sold a substantial amount of our pottery.
The only item we had at the show was the little bell hanger that we created by tying a pottery bell onto a jute weaving. It was extremely popular, but we had only put together half a dozen of them because we had no confidence that they would sell and we didn't want to have a lot left over after the sale. They sold within the hour and I was at the back of our booth putting more together. We had put a modest price on them because of our lack of confidence, and when the first batch sold we raised the price. All of the new ones I put together sold that day and we went home that night and put all of the rest of the bells together that we had on hand. By the end of the weekend we had sold out of all of the pottery bells that I had made. It was such an encouragement and confidence builder! It is one thing to be able to make a product and quite another to have people pay money for it. We are grateful for the community and now our website seen nationwide, that has made it possible for us to build our business.
From that meager beginning we have watched God guide us over the last 37 years to the company now known as Mountain Arts Pottery/The Coffee Pot Bakery Café.
Holiday Open House & Christmas Kiosk 201614th of November, 2016
Come delight in the sights, sounds, & tastes of the Season! We have a new shipment of handmade wooden crosses, fleece mittens, Christmas ornaments, felted wall hangings, local honey, and Montana jewelry. Register to win this year's Mountain Arts Pottery Giveaway worth $500.
Christmas Kiosk Opens - November 18, 2016
For our 16th year at the Gallatin Valley mall, Mountain Arts Pottery will be setting up in the space located in front of JCPenney. We will be open the week before Thanksgiving, starting on November 18 thru the holiday season. Because Mountain Arts Pottery has a full-scale pottery studio and retail store just seven miles west of the mall and a mile south of Four Corners, this year we will feature our most popular pottery items which are our vast variety of mugs and our signature Blessing Jars. Check our Facebook page for weekly promotions.
Should we be blessed with longevity? 3rd of November, 2016
The hard part might be that our health isn’t a good as it was. We might not be as stable on our feet. We aren’t as strong, so we might have to depend on someone else to take a lid off of a jar that we would have had no trouble with in the past. Tasks that we used to do ourselves, we now we hire to get done. The biggest challenge is to take on these changes and to do it with a good attitude.
All of this is a prelude to our most recent visit to Scottsdale. Jennie and I went to Arizona to babysit our four-year old grand daughter and to find a replacement car as our van lost the transmission and was old enough not to be worth repairing. It was much more fun to babysit than it was to go through the hassle of finding a dependable car, but both tasks were accomplished. The last day we were there I had gone to the pool where I walk, and coming back from the pool, I dragged my big toe and fell onto the sidewalk. I gouged my forehead above my eye. Everything was ok except the bleeding. It’s true, head wounds bleed. A lot. I had covered the gash with my pool towel to control the bleeding and went to our condo where Jennie was. Since the gash was covered, she didn’t panic when I told her I had fallen, but she called our son who came right over. I tried to convince everyone that I didn’t need stitches, as I always hated the thought of being sewn up while I’m awake, but my pleading fell on deaf ears.
When we got to the ER and we were with the doctor, I explained to him that I really didn't think that I needed stitches. He felt differently and said as he was cleaning me up, "It would heal, eventually without stitches, but the fact that I can see your skull probably means that it would be wise to sew you up." The battle was lost and I added 11 stitches to my war chest.
I'm sure that I am just beginning to feel some of the pitfalls of "The Golden Years", but I choose to be thankful and to ask for God to help me to have a good attitude knowing that there are so many who struggle much more than I with my light and momentary tribulations.
Current Trends in Color and Home Decor1st of October, 2016
Colors are such a vivid part of our lives, and as a potter, one of the measures of each potter is the colors they work with. One of Jennie’s contributions to the pottery business is her keeping up with current trends in color and home decor. She saw a muted orangey red that she really liked, and as we were associated with as potter who was using that glaze, he allowed us to purchase that formula. We named the new glaze Copper.
Then came the months of experimentation to learn how to apply that glaze to obtain the right thickness and to fire to the right temperature and in our particular kiln atmosphere. Once we have learned how to apply the glaze correctly and the firing schedule down to get the desired color, we begin to experiment with adding a second color to the pot. We can now see what the combinations look like. Glazing is peculiar in that if you put glaze "A" over the top of Glaze "B", it turns out totally different from doing the reverse, so that piece also needs to be determined.
We wanted to use two of our own glazes, Tenmoku which is a shiny black and another glaze that we developed called Midnight Blue. When we apply the Tenmoku with the over dip on top of the Copper, we get some real vibrant colors that have turned out to be very popular with our customers.
The Midnight Blue was a mistake and when the sample glaze was fired, it was definitely not the glaze we expected but we really liked the new color, so the search was on to determine how to get it to be consistent. It was obvious that the glaze had been mixed wrong, so Bob, who has a lot of experience working with glazes, tried to figure out what had been mixed incorrectly. He felt that one of the glaze components was probably doubled so he mixed up a sample using the calculated mistake and he got the Midnight Blue formula.
We have now added these two new glazes to our website and we have carried them in the Mountain Arts Store for some time. They have proven to be very popular and have added a new dimension to the look of our pottery.
Developing Systems That Work8th of September, 2016
I started developing our system by collecting bicycle boxes and large sheets of cardboard from appliance dealers, and we bought apple boxers from grocery stores. They measure about 12” x 19”, so I would cut cardboard on my table saw to 12” x 19“ so I could make a false bottom and layer dividers and a top divider for the cushioned top. For building the compartments for the pots I cut 19” strips that were 4.5”wide with 3 slits half way through on one side and two slits on the other-side. That way when we slide a 12 strip with a slit in the middle we can make either 6 compartments or 8 compartments for bowls or mugs and we can put three levels in a box so we can ship either 24 mugs or 18 soup bowls. After filling in each level with styrofoam peanuts, we tape the box as tightly as possible and we are ready to ship.
After 25 years in the business, we can now afford to have all of our cardboard precut for us. This is particularly important to Jennie, because whenever she heard the table saw fire up she would start praying. After all those years of cutting cardboard I only had one accident on the saw and even though it was close, I saved my thumb and have at least 95 % present of my motion and it didn’t even leave much of a scar.
Bob has been with us for two and a half years and he is our main shipper. Bob has learned our system well and does a great job. The way you evaluate his expertise is all in the history of how many claims we have turned in for breakage. There is no way to tell a bad shipping job outside of how many pots have we broken, and out of the thousands of pieces we ship, there is very little breakage. It’s amazing how God has helped us to develop so many systems that seem to work.
Dave's Delicious Salsa Recipes 10th of August, 2016
1 Bag Cranberries, 1 8 oz. Can Crushed Pineapple (partially drained), 1 Tbs. Onions finely chopped, ¼ - ½ Cup Sugar, 3 Tbs. Chopped Cilantro, Jalapeños to taste & heat. Salt to taste.
3 Med. Tomatoes finely chopped, 1 Med. Green Pepper chopped, ½ Med. Onion finely chopped, ½ Tbs. Chopped Cilantro, Jalapeños to taste & heat. Salt to taste.
1 Mango peeled & chopped, 1 8 oz. Can Crashed Pineapple (partially drained), 1 Tbs. Onion finely chopped, 3 Tbs. Chopped Cilantro, Jalapeños to taste & heat. Salt to taste.
Experience and Business Advice8th of August, 2016
When I'm asked to give business advice, I try to encourage young potters to try the Farmer's Markets around the area in order to test the market for their pottery. I tell them to plan on being there for the long haul. My experience in doing the Farmer's Market and craft shows is that it takes time for people to appreciate your work before they start to buy. This is not always the case but generally what I have found. Even doing shows over a long period of time, I found sales increasing every year as people add to their sets. It is exciting to watch someone pick up your pots and make positive comments about how light the pot is or how much they like the glaze color, but then they set the pot down and go on. Then one day with the same pots and the same crowd they pick up your pot and make the same comments but this time they purchase your pot. It is such a sense of accomplishment to have made the pot and gone through the whole process when people actually like it well enough to put their money on the line.
It was fulfilling to offer our team in the Studio that same opportunity. The six people who work in the Studio and who set up for the show have completely different techniques and styles, yet each sold something, and it was an encouragement for them to do something outside of what they do for Mountain Arts. I think that the Potter's Sale will become a yearly opportunity for them and for the public as well.