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October 6, 2012

Shop Talk: Elizabeth Nields Pottery Studio

The Daily Star

---- — Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Elizabeth Nields, owner of Elizabeth Nields Clay Workshop in Otego.

How long have you lived in the area?

I have lived in the area 38 years.

Tell me about your business:

I make pottery and sculpture. Occasionally I sell sculpture from my workshop, or at a show, but more often I sell pottery. I sell my pottery through stores and galleries, and from my studio. There is a show barn here. People call ahead if they want to see it.

Also, I give workshops, mostly for people from the community, but some people come from a distance for workshops. The workshops are usually intensive, during which people work all day. We all have a festive lunch together.

(The intensive workshops) are like a vacation, but (participants) can get a lot of work done. It feels like what it would be like if you were a real potter or sculptor.

I do some Arts in Education teaching. The students come (to the studio) for their whole school day. They get the feeling of what it might be like to work at this for a long period of time.

My workshop is the subject of a story in the current issue of “Kaatskill Life.”

Describe a typical day in your business:

There isn’t a typical day. On a day that I don’t teach a workshop, I might have some clay pots that I threw (created on a potter’s wheel) the day before. I tool those pots. Then I might throw some more pots on the wheel.

It’s different every day. On workshop days, I make lunch for everyone. Often workshop participants stay quite late. After dinner, I will throw some more pots.

How did you get started in this line of work?

I took an intensive course at a place called Brookfield Craft Center in Connecticut. And I just fell in love with making pots.

What have you learned from your work?

Working in clay nurtures you in a way. It centers you as well, just as you have to center the piece of clay on the wheel before you begin to work. It’s very satisfying work.

There’s a lot of work — throw, tool, kiln, glaze, another kiln. There’s always something that needs to be done, so it carries you along. The sculpture takes more passion. It is less comforting, more expressive. Again, there is something that pulls you along with it.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

The challenges are of such different kinds. Making a really big sculpture that you love is a challenge, but there is also firing the kiln correctly. To market (my work) is one of the more difficult things for me.

The most enjoyable?

There are so many different sides to that. When you’re in the middle of a really big sculpture; the teaching and cooking for my students. Just being with people in the workshops. It is a kind of friendship that feels good to me.

How do you define success for your business?

It does mean a lot to me that I make a profit on (my work), but I think the more important success is making work that I like, and teaching. The people grow through the workshops _ the fellowship of people being together. And I love it when I make a really big sculpture.

What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?

The advantages are that this is a really beautiful area in which to live. People love to come to work in the studio because it is in a beautiful location. There is a lot of freedom here to do things the way you like. Buildings are inexpensive. It’s not so hard to get people to help you with working on the buildings. I love that about here. Everybody in construction has a really good imagination.

A disadvantage is that there are fewer customers, and people do not have a lot of money to spend on classes or buying lots of pottery.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

You have to be persistent. You must not be discouraged when first selling your work. You have to knock on a lot of doors. I wouldn’t advise doing it unless you really love it. And give yourself some time to grow.

For information about Shop Talk, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email

Elizabeth Nields Elizabeth Nields Clay Workshop 429 Chicken Farm Road, Otego www.Elizabeth Body: