Moments and movement and a little magic, too.
That’s Su Chi Pottery created by Susan Shannon, whose affinity for mud began by her playing in it as a kid growing up in West Virginia. She was 7 years old when her parents enrolled her in her first clay class at a museum with an art studio. As soon as Shannon walked in, she inhaled the beautiful earthy smell.
“It hit all my senses,” she says. “I loved it.”
That was a milestone moment even if she didn’t know it at the time as was discovering her high school contained an arts studio.
“I took one class and then I started skipping every other class I possibly could to be in the studio,” says Shannon, who learned how to use the pottery wheel and mix clay along with raku and other techniques. At her instructor’s recommendation, she spent three days at an apprenticeship arts and crafts program that exposed her to other artists.
“I thought that world was fascinating,” says Shannon, who went on to study art in Kalamazoo College. That experience only lasted a year, but it was significant. Needing to sign 50 pots before leaving for semester break, she shortened her first and last name of Childers at the time to Su Chi, which would later become her business name.
“It’s not genius; it’s really simple,” she says. “But over the years, it’s taken on greater importance.”
Moving to Boulder, Colorado, Shannon learned from a master thrower, soaking up the technique of working with mason stains, colorants such as tangerine, robin egg blue and Bermuda green that distinguish her pottery.
“My whole career has been these little moments that contribute to the whole business that I’m running right now,” says Shannon, who balanced being an entrepreneur with raising three boys.
Later, living in southwest Colorado presented the opportunity to join an artist co-op, where Shannon began selling her work.
“By that time, my family and friends could not take any more of my pottery!” she jokes. “So, I started my business, doing one show a year. I took orders and people mostly wanted simple things — cups, bowls and plates. I made some things for people who were building big, beautiful homes. I was led by my customers’ curiosity and my curiosity to see if I could do it.”
Another life turn brought her to Pittsford, Vermont, an area full of cottage industries where Shannon resides today. Su Chi Pottery is one of those boutique businesses, and the way Shannon operates her studio has added depth to the name. Making pottery in large quantities is labor-intensive. Shannon discovered efficient movement is key to doing it well and keeping her sanity.
She combines the mind and body at the wheel, working in sync, like a meditation. “My focus becomes more flowy, and that flow sensation is what leads to the smoothness in the bowls, the efficiency on the wheel to make several pots in a row,” she says.
Chi means life, and Shannon’s pottery is functional for everyday use, dishwasher- and microwave-safe. The heavy, solid saturated colors have an emotional effect. “It’s just so happy, and people like happy with their food,” she says.
The spirals on every piece stem from her time in southwestern Colorado, home to the Anasazi, whose art favored the Zen symbol. “It’s like an exclamation point that dances around,” Shannon says.
She’s fueled when customers share what Su Chi Pottery means to them. Shannon often receives pictures of her pottery in customers’ homes. “They email me to share how much they like what they have. Sometimes it’s even years later and they still appreciate it. These pieces live with the small moments of people’s every day that become the lifetime memories they’ll always have.”
Full dinnerware sets have grown in popularity over the last five years. “Customers come here after they’ve had a white wedding set or their parents’ set or their mismatched inherited set,” Shannon says. “The colors I use are so bright and simple that they fit the new era of their lives.”
Find Shannon’s booth at Rose Squared Brookdale Park shows this spring (June 17-18) and fall (Oct. 21-22).