Liz Vukelich of Gresham was in a hurry to get through school, so when she graduated from eighth grade, she enrolled in college.
"Virginia has a program that accepts early entrants," Vukelich said. "My mom was supportive and I was really excited about it. I thought I would be going to college anyway so why not get it out of the way?"
She lived in the dorms and studied political science. Along the way, she took some art classes, and since she was just one class short of an art minor, took a pottery class her last semester.
"By the end of the semester, I loved pottery and decided it was something that was really important to me," the then 18-year-old said.
Vukelich said she wasn’t sure she had a talent for it, but having worked numerous jobs, she knew how to work hard. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in 2011, she moved to Seattle to serve as a pottery assistant. From there, she worked at a ceramic arts center in Maine, apprenticed with Simon Levin in Gresham, attended grad school, and worked at a school of arts and crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
In the process, she developed skills that left no doubt as to her talent for pottery. Recently, she leased her former mentor’s studio in Gresham. She has met with Green Bay SCORE mentors to develop a business and marketing plan and is ready for her local debut at Artstreet in Green Bay (booth 131) this weekend.
The business, Pots for Living, has launched (facebook.com/potsforliving/).
"The name comes from my studies of historical pottery, especially Tang dynasty ware in which two types of work were made," Vukelich said. "One was ornate and colorful pots and figurines for ceremonial use, and the other was simple, elegant pots for daily use. A question that really interested me while in graduate school was, ‘What kind of pots do we (contemporary Americans) need?’" The answer, she says, is tableware that uses texture, color and sound, to draw the user’s attention and engage them with unexpected details.
Vukelich uses a material called terra sigillata, a slip made of tiny particles of clay. The process is done by hand; no pottery wheel is used. Instead, it is crafted by pinching, coiling, slab building and simple molds.
"Additionally, I use various glazes, colored underglazes, raised dots made from slip trailing, cut outs and carved line work, all set against the texture of pinch marks made from the process of forming the clay," she added.
While producing incredible art has become commonplace for her, it is the business aspects that she struggles with. She works a part-time job to support herself while dreaming of the day when the business can be a full-time endeavor. Those dreams come with long hours as she tries to find the time and resources to build a website, produce art and stay current on social media sites.
The business plan has been challenging; especially in figuring out the financial and marketing aspects. "Another hard part has been pricing," she said. "Right now, I’m looking at the market I’m in and what prices the pottery will sell at. I have been told that I should price based on paying myself an hourly rate, adding materials costs and doubling that. But right now, I am pricing according to the market."
She says there is a great deal of competition in ceramics, and she is up against some great artists. In response, she is developing a niche and transitioning into a "super fun" new color palette and producing works that have an element of sound.
"A lot of my ideas come from my love of historical pottery. Sometimes, I will have a small idea, something you can’t see but you can feel. Like a thicker part of the rim; different variations of wall thicknesses," Vukelich said.
Her goal is to produce art that is fun and practical for everyday use. At Artstreet, she hopes to make contacts and build excitement for her art. She has gone to other shows and taken notes on the flow of moving through the booth and how to display.
"There are uncertainties, because I’ve never done anything like this before," she said. "I borrowed a tent and will be bringing as many pots as I can make — around 200 to 300."
And, most importantly, her payment system is ready to go and once a customer has picked a fun pot, the only question is, "Cash or credit?"
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.