Karen and Stephen Steininger of The Potters Ltd. create production and one-of-a-kind sculpture ceramics. ABI spoke with Karen about their business.
ABI: Describe how the two of you collaborate on your line of ceramics.
KS: Tough question. We’ve been doing it for so long, it’s difficult to break it down. For the most part, Stephen comes up with the new pieces and makes a prototype. Then it’s up to Karen to figure out how to make this piece into a production item. While Stephen totally enjoys the feel and amazing flexibility of the clay, it’s Karen’s job to make sure the items can be produced efficiently and practically.
It’s also Karen that occasionally has to quash some amazingly great ideas simply because they don’t translate well to production pieces. These many times become sculptures. Sometimes Stephen is just having way too much fun.
ABI: You say that you “make things you would like to see” in your sculptural work. Could you explain this?
KS: Stephen has lived a lot of his life in his head. There are so many ideas, pictures, and pieces floating around in there, it’s hard to bring him back to the real world sometimes.
With his sculptures, he’s trying to bring to the real world the things that exist in his mind; perhaps this has been the motivation of many artists through the ages. In any case, it’s nice to be able to reproduce thoughts in hard 3-D. You could say Stephen is our own 3-D copy machine, substituting clay for plastic.
ABI: Where do you sell your work?
KS: Ahh, that’s changing all the time. Since we’ve been wholesaling the production line for so long (something like 35 years now), we have a fantastic lineup of stores, most of which have found us at the Buyers Markets, both Philadelphia and Boston (years ago). That landscape is currently undergoing a transformation, with some of those shops and galleries disappearing due to retirements or attrition, and the entirely different retail experience of the internet.
We sell to a few catalogs, which have both a print and online presence. We also do some retail art fairs. We consider these to be as much R&D as well as selling; it’s always a good thing to get live feedback on new items and glazes.
ABI: How do you choose new designs to add to your line?
KS: Busy eyes. We’re always looking at catalogs, the internet, and the big retailers to see what might be the next ‘big thing’. Sometimes it’s as simple as being inspired by a new accessory, or something at the hardware store that cries out to be included in a sculpture. Our customers, both retail and wholesale, are an invaluable resource, too.
We are open to all feedback and ideas, and some have worked out very well. Others; not so much. Listening to our customers provides the best feedback for our production line. We are making those pieces based on the input from others. Although saleability is desired for the sculpture pieces, they are generally the product of dancing for our own enjoyment. As with any type of art, keeping your eyes and brain open are essential to the development of your work.