A few years ago, when we first started on the festival circuit, I wrote a blog on tips on buying quality pottery at fairs. Now as I reread it, I can see that it was filled with advice that came from an art student who was trying to sound like an artist. I was (unknowingly) focused on defensively explaining pottery instead of writing out solid advice to the shopper.
But today, I have given myself the chance to fix it. Behold:
5 Tips to Buying the Perfect Handmade Pottery for You
Pick it up! – Unless you are shopping at an art gallery, most ceramic artists are completely fine with you picking up the pottery. Every mug is different, just like every hand is different. A sure-fire way to decide between two is to hold them and see how it fits in your hand. Does the handle feel comfortable in your hands? IMPORTANT NOTE: this tip goes for functional work only – please do go picking up sculptures or large vases on my advice.
Think about what you’ll use it for – Not only is this good advice for not over-spending, but I also want you to think about what exactly you’ll be doing with the piece. Is it a pitcher to serve sweet tea from? Then you’ll want to make sure that it is light enough for you to pour from while it’s full. Love pasta and want a new handmade colander? Great! Double check to see if the holes are small enough to contain your angel hair, and that there are enough holes for straining. If it is a piece that you will be drinking directly from, you'll want a thinner or beveled rim verses a thick rim to prevent excess slurping. When you envision you using the piece, not only can you sense when it’s the right one for you, but you will be guaranteed to avoid buyer’s remorse.
Think lighter thoughts – This goes along with #2, but needs a bit more explaining. A classically trained potter will know that a lighter piece is better than a heavier one. This isn’t a matter of durability; all pottery is breakable. (and it should be). Any piece that is meant to carry liquid or food will be weighed down with extra weight, so it is better to start with a lighter form. For bowls, mugs, pitchers, and similar pottery, save yourself the wrist pain and go for a lighter option.
Ask questions – The artist is standing right in front of you, don’t waste your chance to learn a bit about your new pottery! This person created your soon-to-be favorite mug from a pile of clay; take an extra 3 minutes to chat with them - and always grab a business card. It will make the mug special, and you’ll be able to tell your friends about it when they are using your wares. But don’t keep the artist too long; they are there to make money! And speaking of money….
Respect the price tag – Handcrafted fairs are not flea markets, and haggling is not expected. Their work started off as a lump of raw materials before they used their talents to transform it into art, and proper payment is due for that work. The maker’s movement that has been happening in the last 3-5 years in America has helped bring awareness to the plight of the artist pricing, but there is still at least one person at every festival who tries to talk us down. Prices are not a suggestion – if it is too high for you, then it is too high for you. Follow them on social media and perhaps they will run a sale where you can grab up some goods at your price point! Fun side note: sales tax is not optional and it is not the maker’s fault for collecting it. It’s the law – any seller who doesn’t add it on has included it into the pricing already, so don’t give those adding it grief over running their business legally. Keep it classy, folks.
Well there you have it! 5 quick tips on buying the best pottery and leaving everyone with a reason to smile. Keep these tips in mind when exploring your fall and holiday markets and you are guaranteed to leave with good pottery, a good feeling, and a good purchase.
Supporting your local businesses and artists is so important. In a global world, we need to retain our roots in our own communities. We have all become accustom to big box stores and 12 different varieties of everything, but there is nothing wrong with cutting back to the simple side of life. Attending local markets and purchasing directly from makers is such a powerful way to support others in your community, and get something really cool in return.
Slow down and enjoy items made by humans, not machines.