We had the good fortune of connecting with Noah Hughey-Commers and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Noah, how do you think about risk?
Choosing pottery will give you a thousand moments to question yourself. If you’re going to take one of those ways out, then that story is over before it begins. Being a potter is probably a bit like being an actor or a poet, you do it because you have to, because that is the only thing or because there is nothing else.
So if your career is plan A to the end, what risks are you taking? I’ve found that the key is sustainability. Don’t overreach, stay out of debt as much as possible. I have always kept a side hustle, doing some designing for a cabinet company, I lived at home longer than most of my peers with good jobs.
Pottery, especially wood-fired pottery is a slow grow business, it builds with your reputation, your skill set. Trying out different shows, schemes, online shops– these things all help to get you there but there isn’t one break-out moment, at least not for me. In terms of costs, it’s 3/4 labor. My labor is cheap and is my investment in future success. Whatever you put it, it has to be worth it right now. I love what I’m doing and if I had to stop tomorrow I would. If I was making pots just for myself they would look the same. Choosing this lifestyle prioritizes everything else below it, and that’s the last risk you take.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I make pots in a small studio that I built myself. My cycle is biannual, working directly with clay for about three months out of the cycle. With hundreds of pieces made, I deliberately load them into a brick kiln, placing them so as to be decorated by the firing process. A team of about twelve other potters bring pots and then stay for the half week that it takes to heat these pots to the 2400 F. that turns them into stoneware. Wood is the only fuel we use.
Do do this work, you just have to love it and to want it more than other things. Over the course of 11 years I’ve got from an open patch of field in the woods of Virginia to a studio, kiln and everything around me. With a little help from friends, I built myself. I had to learn about thermodynamics of kilns, wiring an electric sub-panel, framing a structure. I photograph my own work, sell it myself at shows or in mu studio.
The pots I make are about an experience you have with an everyday object, when it isn’t that. My cups elevate and experience and tell a story. They are touched by my hands at every stage of their making and they feel intentional in their use. When you use them you will feel that story.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in beer country, wine country of central Virginia. Nelson County is the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We are mountain people, hikers. We are river people and kayak down little rivers to the James River which leads all the way to Richmond with cooler packed in the boat. People come here to drink local wine at one our 15 or so vineyards, or breweries or boutique distilleries. We have active artist studios and plenty of fresh air.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I had a teacher and friend who brought me up making pottery. I fired wood-kilns with him before I was a teenager, burning down ember beds in long, four-day firings where we worked through the night. Through this primal experience of making art in the woods of Appalachia, I was drawn to this work that is like nothing else I know. Kevin Crowe is a self-taught potter who homesteaded in the 1970s in central Virginia, raised two boys and inspired other potters and creatives in his community. He got me into firing kilns and then later in my teenage years, making pots in his rustic studio that smelled of clay and wood.
Stephanie Gross Photography