BON ACCORD, Alta. — Heather Edwards has thrown thousands of pots, but surprisingly few are collected by the Bon Accord, Alta., potter.
The operator of Pottery by Heather uses the seconds not fit for sale in her family home, but doesn’t covet or collect her more ambitious pieces.
“We live humbly. We drive old vehicles until they die. We repair what we can and don’t believe in having stuff for the sake of having stuff,” said Edwards.
She and her husband, Kim Hoar, subsist mainly on a large garden through the growing season and do not believe in credit or bank loans.
They found a “handyman’s dream” home, where they started the business in the basement and raised their two daughters.
Edwards works full time at pottery, creating functional pieces ranging from bowls and mugs to juicers and yarn holders in addition to whimsical chickens and shawl pins and a Celtic line.
She is helped by Hoar, who hand sands the dried creations to prepare them for firing in the kiln. He also maintains the shop, builds equipment as needed and tends to the diverse landscaping that first greets customers arriving at the studio in town.
“He does all the in between stuff for the business to function. It allows me to do this,” said Edwards.
She said it’s a labour intensive craft that requires hours of work for each piece and expensive equipment that includes a kiln, potter’s wheel and clay.
That’s not always reflected in the price of an item like a tea pot that is handled more than 32 times from start to finish.
“You balance it out by selling bowls. The more intricate items you lose on,” she said.
Edwards’s first love was drawing but she got hooked on pottery growing up in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., when a friend took her to a pottery class.
She worked as a journeyman landscaper seasonally, but made pottery her full-time job 24 years ago.
“When the kids came, we had to create a business to feed our family.”
It was a hard switch over from art pieces selling for as much as $500 but that’s why she sets time aside to return to her studio during slowdowns in January.
“I love 40 below and blizzards, when no one is expected to go anywhere. I come into the studio just for me and play.”
While their daughters learned pottery and helped with the business, Hoar said they did not take on their mother’s craft.
“Neither one likes to get their hands dirty,” he said.
Edwards finds little time for teaching but takes every opportunity to share her knowledge with customers at the studio, at galleries where her work is sold and at the four trade shows she attends each year.
“I am a talker,” she said.
“When I was growing up, others shared with me. To me, it’s my obligation to share that.”
Edwards said a typical customer is female and between 35 and 65 who supports local work and enjoy handmade crafts.
“They’re not just buying items, but buying the story behind the item.”
They also give her ideas to create new items such as specially de-signed sauce bowls to keep the brush from falling out or hole-riddled containers for hair sticks and shawl pins.
She also does corporate work, such as customized mugs and displays her work at the website, potterybyheather.com. Edwards said social media networks allow her to reach markets well beyond Bon Accord.
In addition, Edwards has worked with Travel Alberta’s Co-operative Marketing Program to promote her region’s offerings, with a collection of business cards for a local coffee shop and other craftspeople available for visitors to take.
She said the department has provided funding for marketing programs that allow her to hire social media experts to promote events.
Hoar cited the busloads of seniors that arrive here.
They aren’t big shoppers but enjoy the gardens and studio nevertheless, he said.
“It’s not always about making money,” said Edwards.
During the coming weeks, Edwards will put in 18 hour days to prepare for the busy Christmas sales season.