Amanda is our Small Batch Studio Manager and makes limited-release, wheel-thrown, extra special pots. On the team since 2014, Amanda is a bonafide East Fork historian and a super-duper nice person who shares what’s been happening in the studio and what’s on the horizon for hand-thrown limited releases.
Where are you?
I'm at my house in West Asheville. It is sunny and my favorite time of the year (October). I'm listening to a live show from the band Thou. And out the window my neighbor has been slowly dismantling their yard and shifting it into a yet to be identified project. They have a trampoline that tempts me beyond belief that is always in view while throwing.
I’m curious about what’s going on next door. Can you describe your studio?
Me too! I have a small workspace in the lower level of my house that consists of a big table, wheel, and shelving that lines the walls. There is a small closet with a tiny door where I keep the clay: clay cave. There's a big window, so there’s tons of natural light.
When you open the door to the clay cave, what does that feel like? Are you, like, let me at it?
It’s just a closet, ha! Right now it's more like big stacks of clay surrounded by packing materials that I more or less just toss in there. I pick up clay once a week, usually like 300-350 pounds depending on what I'm making. Marcus—East Fork’s Pug Mill Operator—dials in the clay consistency perfectly for throwing which is huge for me!
The East Fork Small Batch studio is devoted to production throwing. Can you explain what that is? How does a person learn to make pottery this way?
Production throwing is basically making repetitive forms so they all look the same and can be sold as a single product rather than a one-off. I learned in a wood fire apprenticeship model with Alex Matisse and John Vigeland—now CEO and CFO at East Fork—and it provided the right structure at the right time to really figure out the technical skill of throwing. To learn, a simple sum-up is making the same thing over and over and over, a whole lot of fine tuning and some perfectionism, which is a trait I have to a point.
Eventually it becomes pretty automatic.
I prep the clay and measure it to the same weight and set what’s called a pointer (paint brush stuck in a hunk of clay next to the wheel) in order to keep the size the height/width as close to the same as possible. It's pretty hard on the body but I feel like I've learned how to work around that and become more ergonomic. Last year there were five or six Small Batch Studio releases of different shapes at quantities ranging between 400 and 900, depending on how large the item is.This year will be similar but 400-600 items per release, I’m hopping on to glazing this year so that will make room for that task.
How do you stay focused on making an object that is identical to the last, and doing that hundreds of times?
Production throwing is definitely my comfort zone and what I think is my strong suit. For me it is more of a technical practice so I don’t have much trouble with the repetition. I really enjoy it.
You mentioned listening to Thou, a metal band from Baton Rouge that’s been around for years and years. Is it good throwing music?
Yeah! They’re good throwing music. I also listen to a bunch of podcasts mostly about comics or fantasy.
You have said that production throwing is a bit of an extension of how you worked when you first started at East Fork. I’d love to hear more about those early days. You are the first person hired to make pots, right?
I started with Alex and John in 2014. For the first two years, it was under a wood fire apprenticeship model like they have both done. We fired the wood kiln four times a year, though I think we did five one year. The first half of my day would be doing chores like prepping clay for Alex, John and myself, stacking wood, mixing glazes, cleaning towels, cleaning the pugmill screens, grinding kiln shelves, cleaning the wood kiln, the list goes on, there’s so much that goes into it. The second half of my day would be throwing pots and working toward good technical hand skills.
As the transition started into gas kiln production, I continued to throw but also took on a kind of management role. Making kiln lists, glazing alongside two or three others, we would set up a shipping station on the far end of the studio and pack. There was always so much going on, people would be unloading bisque kilns, sanding, again, the list goes on! It was a stressful but pretty fun time. Slowly, machines started coming, more people (I feel the need to be naming who was around but that would slowly be adding up to 85 awesome folks!), we started splitting into departments around this time, more locations, and I would only throw a bit, mostly mugs and vases, and continued that organizing role till we were about four or five months into working at the factory in late 2018 to early 2019. It looked a lot different then too!
When the pandemic shut down the factory for many weeks earlier this year, that’s when the Small Batch Studio moved to your house. How do the two workspaces compare?
I’ve found my personality is very conducive to working/living in the same place, which I know can be challenging for others. For me, it's actually been a bit easier to manage making; meaning, I can control how quickly things are drying (this was very difficult to manage in the factory).
Start to finish, how does an idea become a finished product in your studio? Maybe walk us through how the shino bowls came into being.
Connie [East Fork’s CMO] and Kirby [Senior Sales Manager] tell me the shapes they would like to sell, I make a couple versions and once approved, make the run. Occasionally, I'll make some kind of weird, fun vase or something for an auction or giveaway. We’ve released the same shape on more than one occasion in a different glaze so in that case, the project is pretty straight forward since the size and all is already figured out. If it's a new shape, I will make maybe eight iterations for approval which are actually very similar: just subtle dimension changes.
What are you working on now that East Fork customers will be able to bring home soon?
I recently finished up utensil holders for the holidays (basically a gigantic mug without the handle). Now I’m making large vases for a later-date project, which, besides mugs, is probably my favorite thing to make. It's going well! Next up and next available will be a ramekin, to continue the mug analogy, basically a wider mug that’s a third of the height.