Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Spademan.
Sarah, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I always loved working in ceramic, and the first time I held clay at age 5 I made an owl which sits still on my windowsill. Although I didn’t intend to choose making pottery as a career, once in college I spent most the time between other classes in the pottery shop. (I almost completed a degree in environmental science, but ended up with an art degree.) After graduating from University of Massachusetts I noticed an empty garage behind my rental apartment building in Cambridge, and got friends to convert it to a crude studio by installing better walls, and a coal stove, in exchange for wheel thrown dishes. I used the outdoor hose for water. I made pots to pay the rent (it was rent control in Cambridge back then) while teaching young children a little bit, and doing some other odd jobs, still mulling over what type of career I wanted to pursue. In the meantime, I got increasingly involved in making pots and showing at craft fairs. . I was making wheel thrown teapots on bathtub legs, cups and trays with cats and dogs for handles, cameo-style brooches with dog heads, and tiny dog head earrings. I loved animal motifs. I started at some point while working at the Radcliffe studio in Cambridge, to paint black and white spots on the outside of mugs. I had been putting bathtub feet on everything, but decided to put cow legs on instead, and so stumbled upon a very successful line of cow themed pottery. It was during the 90’s, when there was a cow craze, which lasted about 4 years. Eventually I went to a wholesale gift show with the black and white spotted 3 legged mugs and teapots and creamers, which took off with scores of stores ordering. . I had to hire help, and move to a larger studio in Jamaica plain (in the Brewery Buildings near Sam Adams Brewery). During that time I had lots of Mass Art and Museum School Students working part time with me, and we started filling orders for many different gift catalogs: notably NPR’s “Wireless”, Orvis, Eddie Bauer, Bloomingdales by Mail, Hearthsong, etc….
The cow pottery line had expanded to include a tiny cow inside a mug. As the cow craze was winding down. I was pleased to expand what we were already doing by making all kinds of animals inside mugs, not just cows. We had made many tens of thousands of them. The original idea to make a cow inside a mug was inspired by seeing a frog in a mug, which is a traditional whimsical mug, the idea perhaps originating in England. I introduced polar bears, walruses, penguins, and seals in cups with an ice blue interior. Then we just kept expanding the line to include what is now about 130 different animals, which includes different dog breeds and various style of cats, both of which are our most popular creatures. I at some point I realized and embraced that pottery is my main career, and it continues to be fun to come up with new designs.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Lots of challenges filling very large orders on time for catalogs, because of technical issues with clay, firing with malfunctioning kilns, learning to run a business without any training. In 2004, O Magazine chose to feature our dog mugs on the “O List”: things that Oprah loves. The magazine come out in November, featuring a Dalmatian cup, which they described as a “Pup in a Cup”. Up to that time we had only been doing wholesale, we just had gotten our website on line. And the literally thousands of orders placed in November and early December was like an avalanche. It was a transformative experience, as we saw the power of web sales, and the degree of interest in our mugs. Soon thereafter I switched our business over to primarily direct sales, instead of wholesale. Filling those orders, and handling the correspondences, and the website crashes during that time was extremely difficult.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Spademan Pottery – what should we know?
I am proud that the Animugs are handmade start to finish in Cambridge. I enjoy keeping the business small now, so that I can control how each mug looks, as they all are different, with various expressions, etc. I also can make other kinds of pottery, and feature that on Etsy. We are now almost exclusively an Etsy based business. The only other sales we do are directly from our studio during open studios in the spring, as part of Cambridge Open studios, which is run by the city of Cambridge.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My husband Dan is now the only other person working with me, and he has helped fix many kiln problems over the years, and helped in all the moves of equipment from one location to the next, He also casts mugs, and packs and ships. His carpentry skills (his profession) have come in very handy in setting up studios.
Our mugs are made from molds of animal figurines and cups for which I made the originals. A man named Vito Verano used to run a “paint your own” pottery shop in Tewksbury. He made all my original molds, made of plaster and rubber. In the 1990’s and from him I learned mold making, as well as how to cast using liquid clay in plaster molds.
- Most Animugs are $29-$32
- Address: Spademan Pottery 218 Chestnut St. , Cambridge, MA 02139
- Website: Animugs.net, Etsy.com (Search Spademan Pottery, and Animugs)
- Phone: 617-354-1704, 413-628-4518
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org