Our city’s ceramics scene shows no sign of stopping. Here are three potters we love.
Two minutes. That’s the amount of time it takes for frenzied online shoppers to snatch up all 250 of Mary Carroll’s brilliant mugs when she does her monthly inventory drop. Those who score one of the 1970s California-vibed sippers are elated, but within minutes those shut out will be flooding Carroll’s Instagram direct messages clamoring to know when to expect the next drop.
“It is nerve-racking. Obviously, it’s a compliment,” she says. “But I also want it to feel like people have time to enjoy the process of buying it. And I want it to be fun for both of us. I’m so grateful, but it’s a little stressful.”
It’s some high-level fandom for a ceramist who began just six and half years ago by taking one of Portland Community College’s wildly popular ceramics classes, where getting a spot on the roster is nearly as difficult as getting one of Carroll’s mugs. The Portland-bred potter says after four quarters of PCC classes she and a friend decided to sell some of their goods at the Alberta Street Fair. The wares quickly sold out, boosting her confidence to take the leap into a full-time business. She bought a wheel for her studio apartment and fashioned a cubicle of sorts to contain the mess in a corner, and away she went, churning out pieces for maker markets. Three years ago she started a website after her daughter was born and found the aesthetic groove she’s now known for.
“I was sitting here with a sketchbook and I was like, ‘I want to make things that I personally would freak out over instead of me thinking this will sell really well.’ I made a list of things that I like—vintage T-shirts, stuff I saw my dad wear growing up, all these album covers to cool bands. One of the things I wrote was Pogs,” she says from her Northeast production space, where she now has three assistants helping her. “I started noticing the theme—kind of that ’70s vibe. And then I started playing with different kinds of sunsets. That was the first time I felt like I was making stuff that I was really in love with.”
Victoria Buchler’s ceramics are a plant lover’s dream. There are bowl-shaped hanging planters in bright red clay, classic circular stoneware planters with an accompanying festooned drip tray, and even dramatic, chalice-shaped planters in a dark chocolate colorway. Each of these she hand-throws in her home studio, a shed at the edge of the vegetable garden of her Southeast Portland home, decorating them all with her signature abstract patterns.
Buchler achieves the earthy modern aesthetic with a technique called slip trailing: filling a flexible squeeze bottle (similar to ones used in a home hair dye kit) with porcelain slip (essentially a clay slurry) and then dotting patterns from it as her pottery wheel turns.
“That’s all done on the wheel. So it’s rotating and then I’m moving, adding bits of liquid clay or slip to the pot as it’s moving. Depending on the speed of the wheel turning, or how thick the slip is, or whatever, the pattern comes out different,” she says. “It really just came out of me playing in the studio, and I figured out how to do that. And I stuck with it because it changes with each pot so that keeps it really fun for me.”
Originally from Pittsburgh, where she obtained a degree in sculpture, Buchler moved to Portland eight years ago, and her ceramic business has been growing since. Her first wholesale account in town? The plant mecca Solabee Flowers & Botanicals.
“That catapulted me into just making
a ton of planters in general, because it started me off onto a road to other plant shops,” she says. When the shutdown hit in spring 2020, turning all of us into homebodies, a whole new crop of plant people sprung up, and they needed pots to stick their newly acquired pothos, snake plants, and philodendrons into. “Lots of people bought more plants and then they bought more planters, so it ended up working out for me.”
Sisters Felicia and Fiona Kang say their different skill sets help keep their company, Fei Goods, in balance. By day Felicia works in finance for nonprofits and Fiona works in marketing, but together they run the home goods brand to sell their own line of ceramics, candles, and incense.
“Shout-out to my parents for giving birth to a full business team. Because some of the things that I’m horrible at—I hate numbers, can’t deal with operation stuff like supply chains, I just want to design stuff—but Felicia is really good at accounting,” says Fiona. “It makes perfect sense that we’re in business together, because I don’t think it would have happened without the both of us.”
Founded in 2017 as a candle line after the two decided to learn to make them as a joint hobby, Fei Goods soon added perfume making and ceramics to its repertoire. The sisters say all their pieces begin in a paper-and-pen drawing phase before figuring out what medium—or in the case of ceramics, what clay type—is best for the design. Then they both get making. Their multimedia style allows them to play with different aesthetics, including embracing the traditional (and time-consuming) method of hand-building for their ido-gata style sake set.
“In the past, we’ve done a lot more wheel throwing. When COVID started, all of us started working from home, and I just had so much more time I could dedicate to design and make things. It really taught me that I should slow down and work on projects that I care about or things that can help inform my form,” says Felicia, who created the sake set. “Hand-building is one of those things where it’s one of a kind—you can never really replicate that.”