A milestone has been reached in my pottery career. With a ton of help from my wife, I completed my first festival as a pottery vendor. But not just a vendor, I was also a demonstrator!
The Middlebury Fall Festival took place last Friday and Saturday in downtown Middlebury. To be honest, I didn’t get to take in much of the festival but I had a great time.
I felt like the whole week before the festival was crazy. There was so much stuff to do. I got the kiln fired a few days before the festival which is always a lot of work by itself. Then I had to shoot some photos of those pots, haul all the other pots up out of the basement, pack up my wheel, clay and all my tools and put together a few papers for my display. My wife and I also spent one night shopping for wrapping paper, bags, an extension cord and some other items. Then My wife and mother-in-law spent Thursday night cutting and attaching price tags. I brought home two tables from school and dropped them off in Middlebury. Finally, Friday morning we hauled over two car loads of pots, tools, clay and a pottery wheel. And that is NOT a portable pottery wheel!
They had us located in booth 50 which was the corner of one of the larger tents just behind the information booth. We arrived around 7:30 am, unloaded and got everything set up. It took quite a while and I felt like I was still getting things organized and set up throughout the day. The space was right next to the electrical box and there was a water spigot about 100 ft. away. The festival staff was helpful and very nice too. The festival officially opened at 10:00am and I had my tools and wheel ready to go.
I started throwing some simple cups and had a few people stop and watch once in a while. There was a steady trickle of people in the morning. Then there was a slow period mid day and then it really picked up in the evening when people got out of school and work. It probably didn’t help that the skies were cloudy and we had some sprinkles a few times throughout the day. During the evening I started explaining more what I was doing as I was doing it: centering, opening, pulling walls, etc. That seemed to add some interest and I started to get some pretty good groups of people that stuck around for a while. I had some good interaction from some of the onlookers and my wife did a great job taking care of the tables and customers. I was cranking out cups, bowls and an occasional vase. I used up all the Warm Brown Stoneware which I had weighed into 1 lb. lumps so I had to switch to Buff Stoneware. Which meant I had to stop and wedge some clay. It was a lot softer so it was easy to center but it made me nervous to throw as tall and thin as I had been. Closing time was 8pm and I was demonstrating even a few minutes past that. I packed up some of the pots I had thrown and took my splash pan and bucket home to clean. I also wedged and weighed out more clay at home. I packed up a few more pots and finally made it to bed.
Saturday the skies were sunny and the parks were packed. The pottery booth was busy all day. I took down one side of the tent and moved my wheel so it was halfway outside. That made a lot more room for viewing my demonstration and more room to see the tables full of pots. I started the day on my own so my wife could see our kid when she woke up. Then, a big thanks to my mom who watched her the rest of the day. I sold a couple pieces right away and then got into the non-stop demonstration for the rest of the day. I took a small break to devour some lunch but the rest of the day I was at my wheel. I tried to throw a decent variety of stuff. Mostly chalice-style tumblers, Dick Lehman-style cups and some vases and small bowls. It was a lot different environment than I’m usually in: isolated in my basement studio, music blaring and only my thoughts. But once I got used to the staring eyes, thinking out loud and questions from the onlookers, it was a lot of fun.
For most of the festival I had a pretty good crowd around me. I think my biggest fans were the Amish children. I started to recognize a few of them after repeat visits on both days. I tried to keep the kids involved so I let them touch some of the clay or leather hard cups and I usually asked them what I should make next. Some kids weren’t ready to go when their parents were and might have stayed all day if they could.
I also saw a number of old friends and met a number of new friends and passed out a bunch of business cards. Most people had some encouraging words or were curious about the process. A lot of people said that they liked my work after looking at the tables. I also heard a lot of “Wow” or “Amazing” or “It looks so easy” while I was throwing, especially pulling up the walls. Some were also fascinated with the technique I learned from Dick Lehman at the pottery workshop and using some of my tools to add simple texture to some of the pots. There were some really good questions and a lot of the standard questions you might expect. Including variations of the following:
- How hot does the kiln get?
- Some kind of question about the process.
- How long have you been doing this?
- So, you’re still playing in the mud?
- Do you live around here?
Overall, it was a very encouraging weekend. I sold about 44 pots and made a couple hundred bucks. Almost half of those were from the $5 bargain box. This box included mostly cups which I had tested glazes, combinations, or textures and maybe a few seconds. Some were decent but they were all taking up way too much space. Some people even realized that my prices were “very reasonable” which might have cut down on my profit margin but helped me accomplish my two main goals: clearing off some shelf space and letting the general public know that I make pottery. And as a bonus, I made enough stuff during my demonstrations to fill almost half a bisque load! So I would say that I had a pretty good return since the only major costs were packaging, extension cord, a weekend worth of time and gas money going back and forth. Not bad for a festival rookie and his super hero wife…
I would definitely like to do the Middlebury Fall Festival again. Even if I have to pay the full booth fee I think it would be worth it just because it’s so close and it seems like a great event. I might start checking some other smaller festivals and shows that aren’t too far away as well. Of course, I’ll have to improve my booth setup and maybe get one of those little tents. But I feel encouraged enough to give it another try if I can find the right opportunity.
If you saw me at the festival, thanks for stopping by! If not, maybe next year? And a special thanks to Donna and everyone that made the festival possible, my wife, Grandma Gail and Grams. I couldn’t have done it without you.