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is it just me? (cm articles)

updated thu 24 may 07


primalmommy on wed 23 may 07

When I was younger and more idealistic, I thought that people couldn't
live on a studio potter's income for the same reason families "can't
afford" to have a full time parent home with little ones: I assumed it
was because an ad-saturated, market-driven economy had redefined what we
"need", and folks now "require" a lot more expensive toys and
conveniences to consider themselves "making it".

I was sure a philosophy of voluntary simplicity, cooking from scratch,
reduce-reuse-recycle would make it possible for anyone.

Pottery worked well for me because I could multi-task. I could throw in
a tarp-lined linen closet while babies napped, and I still throw parts
in my studio late at night to assemble at the kitchen table while
helping my kids with their morning homeschooling assignments. I can grab
studio time here and there, after midnights and on weekends, and it
suits my short attention span.

But here's the biggie: I am married to a benefits package. Hubby's not
wealthy but he's got health coverage. Full time potters I know on this
list are familiar with the dance of employed-spouse-bennies, especially
as we get older. Even Tony with Canadian health care has to think about
issues like a pension and disability.

I was interested in the CM articles about full time potters and stayed
up late reading every one. What hit me the hardest was the recurring
refrain: "Stay healthy. Do yoga. Don't get sick and you can manage with
just the expensive, high deductible catastrophic coverage".

There's the brick wall, for me. We're in our mid 40s. A husband with a
family history of heart problems, three births and now three kids with
orthodonture, asthma meds... lord, we just spent $70 on a vet bill for a
pet RAT and so are living on whatever's in the pantry until payday. And
we're still fairly young.

Tony isn't missing from clayart because he's doing production work. He's
missing because he's gone back to school, looking for a way to be a
potter and not end up in the poorhouse one day when he's too old to
stoke all night. Same with me. I wouldn't want to try to help my kids
through college based on whether the art fair crowd is interested in my
impractical, derivative ewers ;0) or whether it rained on my ez-up all

When I was younger and single, I could have lived in a yurt and trusted
my health to diligence and luck. But we're all one bad mammogram away
from big financial problems. Until there's access to affordable health
care for those not working under a corporate or academic umbrella, the
cross section of full time potters will remain mostly young and single,
or teaching on the side, or married to a benefits package.

I have no illusion that an MFA makes me more qualified to make good work
than any other potter, just like I have no illusion that riding my bike
all over town will have much effect on OPEC. All I know is that it I
can't spin gold from straw like Rumplestilskin, and I can't assume the
work I produce in the studio -- mass produced or hand made -- will psy
the big bills when they come. And they will come, for all of us, whether
we live on red meat and manhattans, or tofu and wheatgrass juice.

Kelly in Ohio... with tomatoes planted, and sketches made for a very
small henhouse to replace the one I tore down before starting school.
Last summer without a garden or hens was just too bleak. Now if only my
new queen bee would start laying eggs!

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Richard Aerni on wed 23 may 07

I saw that CM has articles on working potters, just haven't had time to read
them yet.
Reality for me: I had my best year saleswise and incomewise in six years,
last year. However, I earned more money from the gain in my retirement
funds, put away during the first 20, better, years of pot selling than I did
from my pots last year. For all of that, I feel fortunate that I have
retirement savings.
Reality for me: I have been doing shows since 1976. I have gotten into the
Smithsonian Craft Show four times, done shows at the American Craft Museum
in NYC, at the Renwick in Washington DC, and other desirable venues. I
think my work is better now than when I showed in those places, but I have
been rejected by the great majority of craft shows to which I have applied
this year, most of which I wouldn't have bothered even applying to in the
good years. Good news is that I've taken the time and energy to diversify
my business over the years, so I'm not all that dependent on craft shows.
But still, it stings.
I'll pass on more realities later, perhaps, but for now I've got to get
dinner together for a hungry teenager.
Richard Aerni
Rochester, NY