Potter puts North Dakota into creations
This story is a condensed version of the original story that was published in the November 2013 issue of North Dakota Living.
by Candi Helseth
|Deena Elm does pottery detailing at Davy Pottery. (photo by Candi Helseth)
This is the telling moment. “Ahhh,” Susan Davy says appreciatively as she examines a multi-colored bowl fresh out of the kiln. She points to a creamy line running through the piece, evidence that its glaze contains flax ash, a subtle North Dakota signature in some of her pottery designs.
As Davy and her longtime employees, Deena Elm and Kathy Kopp, examine the eight-tiered rack filled with more than 100 still-hot Davy designs, she muses, "Getting glazes right is always a challenge. When the pieces come out of the kiln, it's kind of like Christmas. You're never absolutely sure what you're going to get."
More than 30 years ago, when Davy left a secure job as a registered nurse to begin self-employment as a potter, she wasn't sure what she was going to get either. The gamble paid off. A Verendrye Electric Cooperative member, Davy creates functional stoneware pottery at her studio, Davy Pottery, located near Burlington on her grandparents' farmstead where she and her husband, Tom DeLoughery, now live.
Her pottery has been featured on the cover of high-end gift catalogs, such as Crow's Nest Trading Company, sold on QVC (a television network), and is in hot demand at tourist destinations and gift stores across the country. Three decades of success in a business where most mothers would have told their daughters to stick with nursing proves that Davy's art and business savvy greatly outweigh her occasional glaze failures.
“Glazing is the hardest part of the artistic process,” Davy comments. “You can actually go to college for a Ph.D. in glaze chemistry. I’ve used a glaze successfully for 10 years and then something in the chemicals changes and it quits working.”
Davy developed her flax glaze using flax straw on the Kopp farm. After harvesting the flax, the Kopps baled the straw off their fields. Davy and her coworkers burned it, collected the ash and stored it.
“After LOTS,” Davy sighs, “of experimentation, we came up with a glaze that works. Flax glaze has been wonderful for our market, but tough to do.”
Molding a business
Her High Plains stoneware has 56 different pieces with five glaze options. One of her North Dakota brand lines features cottonwood leaves embedded into the design. Fortunately, she says, she learned that leaves freeze well so she isn't limited to making leaf art seasonally. The leaf line so enthused a Colorado marketing representative that she picked and mailed aspen leaves to Davy for inclusion in products Davy makes for her Colorado market.
Moving from income-undependable craft fairs to wholesale marketing gave Davy the stability she needed to grow her business and invest in technology that improves productivity. Hers was only the seventh studio in the nation to add a customized kiln built in the Netherlands. Its immense size also necessitated the second addition to her studio. Near the kiln, a faded overseas telephone number written on a metal box reminds Davy of the days when she frequently phoned the Dutch builder to talk her through a hitch.
A member of Pride of Dakota (POD) since the organization was implemented in 1985 as a state-sponsored “brand” program, Davy says POD has made it easier for new entrepreneurs to build and market their businesses.
Candi Helseth is a freelance writer from Minot.
To learn more:
In North Dakota, Davy Pottery products are available on the Pride of Dakota website, www.prideofdakota.nd.gov, at several North Dakota tourist locations and at www.davypottery.com.