Interview with Ceramic Artist, Laura Brown
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KÜHL chats with ceramic artist, Laura Brown, to get acquainted with her work and inspiration.
Written by Sam Brown.
Laura Brown is a ceramic artist who splits her time between Kansas City, Missouri and Empire, Michigan. Laura blends her pursuit for perfection and symmetry with her passion and obsession for wild places. Her work captures this dualism with intent and beauty.
Beyond the Maker
This series from KÜHL goes beyond getting to know an artist's work and inspiration. We dive deeper into their origin stories and struggles to learn how they cope with failure, critics, and success, yet still find time to do the things they love. Born in the mountains, raised in the studio—these are their stories.
The Duality of Intent – Lou Pottery
Pottery was never the end goal, creation was. Ever since she was young, Laura Brown loved to create. This obsession has led her to where she is today, the smiling face behind Lou Pottery.
What began as an experiment after a short stint in graphic design when she graduated college, has flourished into a small pottery business run by a woman who refuses to comply with our modern standards of a “successful business.” Like KÜHL, Laura insists on being independent which provides her the freedom to adapt, explore and create.
Laura has the best problem any small business owner can have – incredible demand. She stocks her shop a few times a year and most of her products sell in a few days. Her popular mugs last a few hours.
With this success comes unsolicited advice. “Expand,” they say, “Hire help. Streamline. Optimize. Take out a loan. Go into debt. Make more products to make more money.”
Laura has intentionally decided to keep her business small and spry. With the exception of hiring a helper for several months last year to meet holiday demand, Laura, and only Laura, throws, trims, fires, glazes, packages and ships every single piece that comes out of her studio.
All her pieces are hand thrown on the wheel or hand built. Most of her designs are practical and meant to be used and abused around the house. “The purpose of my pottery is to provide the framework for your meals, mornings, quiet times or home décor—to encourage the rhythm of the land that guides my work. This is my art. Your nightstands, cabinets and kitchen tables are my gallery,” she writes on her website.
Success, to her, is being able to take 3 months off every year to go roam around in southern Baja with her husband. It’s spending 8 weeks on the road living out of a truck between seasonal house leases. Success is creating what she wants, when she wants. It isn’t making more money at the expense of being tied to a desk to manage payroll, even if it meant more income.
Laura admits this isn’t a luxury every artist can enjoy. She is grateful for this work/life balance and recognizes the compromise and sacrifice required to run a business like this.
BEYOND THE PROCESS
Few people understand what it takes to transform a lump of clay from start to finish. Pottery is complex.
A pottery studio is a living organism that requires 220 volts of electricity, ventilation and plumbing to beat its dusty and cantankerous heart. The pottery artist is the tired but inspired caretaker of this beast who doesn’t get PTO or overtime. Ever.
Making pottery demands acceptance that all your hard work can (and will) be destroyed. Paint doesn’t peel off a canvas after weeks at the easel. A photograph doesn’t melt. Losing work is a weekly reality to a pottery artist. Kilns overheat. Pieces dry out too quickly. Shelves break.
There are no shortcuts to production. Laura can’t hit “print” and churn out 5 dozen prints of her work to sell online. Every piece requires the same back breaking commitment.
Every artist deserves credit, and each have their own unique challenges and are on their own journey. But to be a pottery artist takes grit and acceptance that it doesn’t always go according to plan.
The process is a lesson in patience and humility. Clay is from the earth. Natural materials do not submit to our ideals of uniformity or consistency. And as a woodworker will tell you, wood does what it wants. So does clay. And glaze, which is basically liquid glass before it’s fired in a kiln can (and will) have a mind of its own. However, these frustrations lend themselves to the beauty and mystery of pottery.
When you blend these variables with the pursuit of perfection, it gets frustrating. Yet, as fans of Lou Pottery know, it’s always worth it.
Laura is a child of the woods, a free-spirit bound by adventure on the road. She finds clarity in simplicity, geometry and fine details that many of us hike, swim, ride and drive past throughout our days. She could (and does) spend hours on a beach looking for shells and stones.
Laura’s work captures what she loves—wild places and symmetry—with elegance. She is able to take these raw, powerful elements from the places that inspire her and refine them into something her customers thread into their daily lives, over coffee, warm meals, and stiff drinks. She often brings cups and mugs with her as she travels, for photo opportunities but more importantly to give to people she meets along the way.
The dualism is a trance. Laura needs perfectly crisp glaze lines; the shapes need to be symmetrical. Yet somehow her work still captures the essence and organic beauty of the rugged dusty desert landscapes, desolate beaches, northern hardwoods and colorful coral reefs that sustain her when she’s not in the studio.
As you sip a drink from a tumbler and run your hands down the refined tapered sides and feel the smooth glaze transition into the raw unglazed sides of the mug, you can sense this intention.
BEYOND THE WHEEL
Laura recently relocated from northern Michigan to Kansas City, Missouri and brought her entire pottery studio with her. The challenges were many. The setbacks never seemed to stop coming. But she’s finally settled and churning out work, if you’re lucky some might still be in stock on her website.
Her studio is on the 5th floor of an old furniture factory built in 1904. The wooden floors creak and mice skitter across the floor to find warmth under the kiln on cold winter nights. Natural light pours through large south facing windows and it’s just a quick 10-minute bike ride from her apartment downtown.
She misses the north and always will. Which is why her and her husband still own their bungalow up there, so they can return to the magical mystique of Leelanau County, when Lake Michigan is calling.
Keep up with her journey on Instagram @loupottery and check out her work that’s for sale on her website – loupottery.com
SHOP LAURA'S LOOK