Pottery: A Love Affair

An Interview With Kevin Caufield

As part of Hampden Park Co-op’s commitment to participating in the Principle 6 Cooperative Movement (supporting small, local, and/or cooperative businesses) we invited in two local artists, Jason Kaping, owner of Pig’s Eye Pottery and Kevin Caufield, owner of Caufield Clay to sell their handmade pottery in the store over the holidays and into the spring.

Their work has been a resounding success, thanks to so many of you who have purchased their beautiful mugs, plates, and unique kitchen accessories. Their work will be on display and available for sale through the end of March, with potential upcoming pop-up events this summer.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Kevin and Jason share a beautiful studio space right off Hampden and University in the Dao Building. There is parking in the back of the building and that is where you find the door to their studio space.

On a recent evening, while Jason was away doing some wedding planning (congratulations Jason!), I had the opportunity to sit with Kevin in the beautiful studio they share, surrounded by pottery wheels, giant blocks of unmolded clay and dazzling glazed works of art. As we talked, the sun set and the entire studio was filled with a warm purple pink glow through the dozens of windows that line one wall of the studio.

These are excerpts from our talk:

Christina: When did you first become interested in pottery? When you were a little kid?

Kevin: I took it as a high school class in 1972. I have been doing it ever since.

C: Where did you [grow up]?

K: Long Island, New York. I am [now] very far away from Long Island. I always thought I was going to be a New York City firefighter, because that’s what my dad was. So, I took the test … it was the first year that women were allowed to apply … they made the physical harder, and the test got sued. So, my ambition of being a New York City firefighter was put on hold. [So I said to myself] “Alright, well this is gonna be a while, so what is this other thing I like to do. Well there’s this clay thing.” I decided to pursue an apprenticeship someplace.

C: And how did you end up here?

K: There was a clay conference held every year at Penn State University called “The Super Mud Conference.” I was still helping out at the studio at the college [where Kevin had stopped taking classes to pursue fire fighting] … so I went to the lecture at the conference and this woman stood up, named Mary Baker, and she said, “I’m an apprentice at a place called Eckels Pottery in Bayfield Wisconsin and we are currently seeking new apprentices.”

C: … And so you applied?

K: So I applied … [and I got in]. In Bayfield a two-bedroom apartment cost $140 a month in 1979. I arrived with a thousand dollars in my pocket. I had that and that’s what we lived on. After my first month I got my first check for selling something in the gallery. For a month’s worth of work, 12 hours a day, seven days a week – it was for $1.00. I still have it.

Then spring came and tourist season came and then the shop was situated so that people came in and watched you work. I mean you were on display all the time … I worked retail for six years so I did not mind talking to people. I spent two and a half years there learning how to be a full time potter. Waiting on the customers – taking the orders, filling the orders and learning all the tricks and ins and outs of being a full time potter. You know, taking custom orders, being able to have the skills to interpret what someone wants and then deliver it and have them like it … that was one of the biggest lessons I learned there – was to be able to interpret what someone wanted and then make it and deliver it and have them be happy.

Kevin and I continued talking about his evolution as a potter in the Twin Cities – from the humble beginnings, to buying land and building a country studio, to hungering for the energy of the city once more. Kevin’s love of pottery and a deep belief in serendipity have served him well in his professional life. As our hour wound down, I wanted to find out about his current work and what he was doing to share his gifts with others.

C: So now you are here in this space. Tell me about that.

K: I had this other idea, a few years ago, about wine and pottery … my deal went live in November of 2013. All I wanted to do was pay the rent on this space ... I had two (throwing) wheels and I borrowed two wheels from a friend, so I could take four people at a time. I taught a class on Friday night, I taught four classes on Saturdays and then two on Sundays. I taught all the classes, a lot of them were just two people, and developed all the systems. It was slow going at first, but I just kept building and building and after the first year things were rolling well. I needed more wheels so I bought two more and then two more … now I am up to 10 wheels.

Kevin and Jason host a wide range of classes and their studio is open to the public as well. You can learn more about Kevin and his amazing pottery at www.caufieldclay.com, or check out Jason’s Pig’s Eye Pottery page at www.facebook.com/jason.kaping for upcoming events. And, of course, check out their beautiful display the next time you are shopping at the co-op!

By Christina Nicholson, General Manager • Photo retouching by Christine DeMars • March 2017