Evolving: Donna Rozman describes one potter's experience with marketing her work.
THE WORLD IS CHANGING. FOR THOSE OF US 'OF A certain age', life as we know it is becoming a thing of the past. As we become a more global, technological society, the success of selling pottery and sculptural/ decorative ceramics is evolving. In the current economic market, many art buyers are cutting back on spending. This trend is creating an environment in which many studio artists are looking for fresh, new ways to produce income. Potter Maggie Mae Beyeler, owner of Magpie Pottery, has met the challenges presented by this environment with open-minded clarity, creatively generating successful opportunities. The success of her recent ventures is inspiring and may be helpful to other artists and crafts persons.
While studying environmental sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Beyeler enrolled in a ceramics class. After earning a BA in Environmental Studies/Land Use Planning, she spent two years working as an environmental scientist. A move to Boulder, Colorado, steered Beyeler to the University of Colorado where she studied ceramics with Betty Woodman and Scott Chamberlin and earned an MFA in ceramics. Her work includes tableware, tiles and wall pieces and her forms are contemporary, wheel thrown and slab built. She uses a laser toner transfer technique; downloading images to the computer and printing on decal paper. These images are fired on to the surface of her forms creating a lively contrast between the textural elements. "It has always been important to me to let clay be clay, to allow for its inherent qualities of fluidity and spontaneity."
Until recent years, Beyeler sold her work at competitive art fairs and wholesale markets, travelling to many art fairs in Colorado and Arizona. She was also represented by galleries throughout the US. The art fairs required substantial entry fees and travel expenses as well as a considerable amount of time driving to distant locations and setting up. The gallery representation meant lots of time spent packing and shipping work. Beyeler went back and forth between doing art fairs and switching her focus to the wholesale market. In recent years, the work load increased while sales diminished. After working long hours for several years and after a particularly difficult art fair year, Beyeler's health suffered. She realized, "I have to find an easier way to work; not harder but smarter." She asked herself, "How would you like to live the rest of your life?" It really was not a question of how to make more work; it was a question of how to sell more work.
At that time, Beyeler was involved with the annual, spring Eldorado Studio Tour. The studio tour connects the buying public with the artists in an intimate setting. Approximately 100 artists participate and open their homes and studios featuring a wide range of fine arts and crafts. Currently in its 18th year, the Eldorado Studio Tour is a profitable sales venue for Beyeler. The popularity of the studio tour guided Beyeler's thinking, "What if the selling success of the studio tour happened more than once a year? And, what would that look like?" So Beyeler approached the New Mexico Potters and Clay Artists (a statewide clay guild) and asked them if anyone would like to do a show with her. They agreed. A venue was secured and a two-day weekend show was scheduled for that April.
The Contemporary Clay Fair was such a success for the participating potters and clay artists that they soon decided to do a second show in November before the holidays. Currently 30 clay artists participate in the show and share the work load involved in pulling it together. There is a steering committee that organizes the event, with auxiliary committees that work on food and drinks, publicity and so forth. In a local community hall, each participant has a single six-foot table for display; replacement work is stored under the tables for restocking as sales are made. There is a central cashier and each participant is expected to work two two-hour shifts each day of the fair. The advantages of this sales venue are that it is local--no shipping or transportation costs; jobs are shared by all participants; and the cost of the show is shared by all participants which makes it less expensive for each individual. Their customer base is local individuals who now come year after year. The success of attracting local clientele has created a multitude of collectors who return annually to buy from their favourite potters/ clay artists. To avoid pitfalls Beyeler suggests, "Communication is crucial, being clear about what the show is. Be clear about the mission. Is it a sale or an exhibition? Should it be juried?"
With the success of the Studio Tour and two Contemporary Clay Fairs each year, Beyeler began to wonder if there was a way to get buyers into her studio throughout the year. She was interested in bringing the buyer to her product rather than taking her product to the buyer. Inspired by HandMade in America's Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina and the New Mexico Fiber Arts Trails, Beyeler began to research the possibility of creating a New Mexico Potters Trail. She contacted potter friends who lived in the area around Santa Fe. A group of professional and emerging potters and clay artists were interested and 14 participants joined the campaign. The first year a brochure was produced and a distribution company was hired to distribute the brochures to kiosks in restaurants and businesses throughout the region. The cost to produce and distribute the brochure was high for the individual artists, so Beyeler applied for and received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant through New Mexico Arts, the state arts commission.
The creation of the New Mexico Potters Trail led to a collaborative exhibition with the artists of the New Mexico Fiber Arts Trail. Hard/Soft was one of only four exhibitions in the inaugural year of Santa Fe's new Convention Center. An additional benefit of the initiation of the Potters Trail was an article published in October 2009 issue of Sunset Magazine that highlighted the trail.
After the first year of the Potters Trail, the group concluded that interested tourists often do not have the time to visit the entire Potters Trail which stretches 100 miles through northern New Mexico. Subsequently, they created four smaller loops that connected the potters geographically: Northern Loop, Southern Loop, Santa Fe Loop and Taos Loop. Potters on a specific loop can do micro marketing to entice travellers to their particular areas. Beyeler is committed to the Potters Trail and sees it as a vital, dynamic mechanism for marketing and selling ceramic work.
During her career as a studio potter, Beyeler has always augmented her income through teaching. She continues to teach classes in tile making at Santa Fe Clay, the Santa Fe Community College and at Magpie Pottery. Beyeler was involved as a workshop presenter at the 2008 Santa Fe & UNESCO International Conference on Creative Tourism. Santa Fe is a member of the UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization) Creative Cities Network. Beyeler's involvement with the conference led to an invitation to have an advertisement on the web site maintained by the city of Santa Fe. The new web site connects travellers with vibrant hands-on experiences unique to Santa Fe.
The definition of Creative Tourism as developed by the conference planning committee is, "... tourism directed toward an engaged and authentic experience, with participative learning in the arts, heritage or special character of a place". As a result of Beyeler's listing on the web site, visitors to Santa Fe are booking lessons at her studio. Beyeler's goal is to provide a customized, genuine, creative experience for travellers to the area. In addition to an introduction to clay, this experience includes a tour of Beyeler's adobe home, xeric-scape garden and airy studio; a meet and greet with the Eldorado Dog Sled Team (Beyeler's three charming huskies); and a warm cup of cappuccino. Participants share in a slice of Beyeler's life as a potter, creating tiles in her spacious studio. The exchange of ideas during this experience leaves both student and teacher with an expanded point of view.
Beyeler's efforts to establish new avenues for selling her work have enriched both her pocketbook and her life. Marketing her work locally is physically and financially easier. By creating high local visibility, Beyeler now has repeat customers who contact her regularly when they need a gift. Ventures into the technological age include her listing on www. SantaFeCreativeTourism.org as well as maintaining a web site for Magpie Pottery. In addition to adding to sales, her web presence instantly creates a relationship with her potential customers. Focusing on local opportunities includes collaborating with fellow potters for the Contemporary Clay Fair, participating in the Eldorado Studio Tour and Farmers/Artist Market and the creation of the New Mexico Potters Trail. Although Beyeler still travels to a few art fairs each year to sell her work, these local events have eased the work load and enriched her life. Maggie Mae Beyeler's efforts to change her approach to marketing and selling her work are paying off. In these economically unstable times, she is thinking creatively, working smarter and living her life with intention.
Donna Rozman is a studio potter and writer who lives and works in Crested Butte, Colorado, US.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2010|
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