Montana Handmade stoneware pottery by Mountain Arts Pottery in Bozeman.
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Handmade stoneware pottery hand thrown by Mountain Arts Pottery in Bozeman, Montana.

Mountain Arts Musings

Have an idea for a design?
4th of October, 2017

When we have people in the Store, we are frequently asked how we come up with our different pottery shapes and designs. Often, our customers are some of our best designers. Years ago we were at an art show in Billings, Montana and a woman asked us if we had a Pansy Ring. We had never heard of a Pansy Ring, so she brought one that was her grandmother’s and we made some for her. She was thrilled and we have been making them every since.

Another design that was customer inspired is our Brown Sugar Scoop. I love autumn and I love leaves, so we used to make cut out leaves for decorations and some larger ones for spoon rests and soap dishes. A friend of ours had been given a small pottery leaf that was bisqued but not glazed. Some time after she had received that piece she said that she used it in her brown sugar to keep her brown sugar from becoming hard. She said that she also used her leaf to carry her brown sugar for her oatmeal. So she then suggested that we make scoops for our brown sugar. That seemed like a great idea so we created brown sugar scoops. We’ve had them now for many years and they are a great little item. I once had a box of brown sugar that was so hard I had to tear the cardboard off of the sugar. I moistened my brown sugar scoop, put it in a ziplock bag with the hard brown sugar and overnight the sugar was soft again. When you moisten a piece of bisqued pottery, it transfers the moisture into the brown sugar.

We’re grateful for our clever customers and the designs they come up with. Have an idea for a design? Let us know. Who knows what we might come up with that many more people can enjoy!
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6th of August, 2017

After 38 years in our present business it is amazing how much we have become dependent on modern day electronics. We have 4 kids and they are always pushing us into the next level of technology. Our son Tim just mounted an Alexa in our house that has a feature similar to FaceTime. When we access their house we see a picture of their kitchen and whom ever is there.

I asked one of our kids why they are so technologically minded because I was thanking him for helping us to stay current with what's going on in technology. When I asked what was the driving force for them pushing us to stay current, he said, “Dad, don't you remember that we were the first family in all my circle of friends who had a PC computer in their home?"

Then I remembered bringing the computer to our house and our business. My sales point to Jennie was that at that time, we made over 60 items, glazed in 6 different colors, and a customer could have a due date on 1 of 365 days in a year. How could I possibly keep track of all that? A computer could help me manage all that data! Her response, “we owe on a $2500.00 line of credit and the day you zero that out you can buy the computer”. I have never scrimped, saved and worked so hard to pay off a bill! True to that commitment, the day I finished paying down that line of credit we ordered our first PC. It was a Zenith with 2”-4” floppy drives. The first upgrade was to exchange one of the floppy drives for a 40 MB hard drive.

In our company today we have 2 Apple computers and 3 PCs, one of which is a laptop for our bookkeeper. We have a sound system that has 4 speakers with each one being independently connected to the WIFI so they become a wireless sound system. Our POS system is run off of the Internet with 4 printers and 2 card readers and 2 auxiliary card readers as back-ups. Today I am the first one on the till in Mountain Arts. All of our products have a bar code, which we scan with our UPC code reader. Unfortunately, today the credit card reader tied to the bar code reader doesn’t work. I tried the reboot the Ipad and do a refresh on the credit card reader tied to the POS system, but all to no avail. I started following the cord of the credit card reader and half way down through the jungle of cords I heard a double beep and all of a sudden it starts to charge. I stand up and it shuts down again, so I started the search again and it turns on and then off. I discover that in the jungle of plug-ins, the charging unit comes unplugged very easily. So given time the battery runs low and it quits working. Now I just need to find room for the power strip so the credit card reader’s charger can stay plugged in!Technology. Both a blessing and a curse. But I'm so happy to have it!
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13th of June, 2017

Years ago as a young potter I was doing some raku work with a limited level of success. We were doing an art show called Art In The Park in Boise, Idaho, a big show with some great artists. Much of their work was outstanding, but there was a potter at the show who did raku work of a quality I had never seen. This potter was from Texas and I started talking to him about his technique. He was pretty open about how he did his work and I was starting to learn a lot. Then he discovered that I was a fellow potter and the Texan clammed up, and if he could have he would have taken back everything he had told me. Since he was from Texas and I was from Montana, and a young, novice potter, I’m pretty sure that I could not have had a negative impact on his market. I was so taken back that I set my heart to try, for the rest of my life, to encourage other potters every time I had the opportunity.
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.
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2017 Annual Oops! Sale
11th of May, 2017

Oops! The term, "No one is perfect" is true in most industries, and a pottery studio is no exception. There will always be pottery that is not of the finest quality; glazes may not turn out, pieces may get chipped in handling, glazes may no longer be current, or perhaps the item in question is no longer something we make.

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).
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Change of Seasons
11th of May, 2017

The nice thing about living where we do, we get to see the changing of the seasons in so many ways. Not only does the weather change drastically, so do the activities of the studio and our store.

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.
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Growing Pains
11th of April, 2017

I was invited to speak at the Montana State University School of Business in a class on being an entrepreneur, and was asked to share how we started our business, Mountain Arts Pottery. Mountain Arts is a hand thrown pottery company that we started in 1980 after losing an excavating business. In the 80s, we went through an economic downturn and the housing market disappeared for a few years so we started a pottery business.

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!
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A New Glaze Combination
6th of March, 2017

We at Mountain Arts Pottery are constantly trying to find different glaze combinations as well as creative pottery shapes to add interest, newness and freshness to our displays.

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.
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Local Montana Made Products
2nd of February, 2017

Before we opened our store, Jennie and I would haul our pottery from state to state, going to fairs and festivals. Pottery was the only thing that we sold at that time. When we opened Mountain Arts Pottery outside of Bozeman in 2003, we discussed having other items available in the store for our customers. My theory was that we could make our own pottery for the best price because we were making it ourselves and didn’t have to pay someone else. For several years, until we opened the Coffee Pot Bakery Cafe under the same roof, all we sold for gift items was pottery. As we began to become more popular and could afford to buy some add on items, we cautiously began to look for gift items to add to our customer’s shopping experience. The first thing we bought was local hand made greeting cards. Our idea was that if people needed a gift, they needed a card as well.

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!
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A New Year a New Road
9th of January, 2017

It seems that every year there's a new road to walk. This year in late November I was sitting long enough at the store that when I stood up my legs had gone to sleep. When I went to take a step I just went down, bending my leg real sharp. It hurt like the dickens! I thought I had done some real damage to my knee, which has been replaced. I made it home and when Jennie got home I told her I thought I needed to go to the doctor. I don’t avoid going to doctors, but I just don’t go very often, so wanting to go meant I must have hurt myself pretty badly.

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.
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