A potter starts a production studio at age 60; how she did it and why she knew it was the right decision.
Lorraine Oerth is very excited. She’s got a thriving production ceramic studio in Alexandria, Virginia. Her work sells briskly in galleries all over the country, and she calls her business “thrilling.” Achieving success in her relatively new business isn’t an accident, though – it’s the product of her life’s experience.
Artists (and aspiring artists) who are at or near retirement age can take inspiration from Lorraine’s story, and her determination to reinvent her career. She calls it “beyond fulfilling, to be creating something which is selling well in the marketplace. This is a very productive, high-energy experience.”
Graduating art school in her twenties, Lorraine spend 15 years as a studio potter, but left the field to start an executive search business. Today, her sister Linda has taken over that business.
Lorraine successfully juried for studio space in Alexandria’s famous Torpedo Factory, and spent a few years creating one-of-a-kind work there, not only in ceramics, but also printmaking, collage and painting. When her husband passed away, however, it was a difficult transition, and she decided to make a change.
Oerth Gallery opened in 2007, in a colorful townhouse in Alexandria, filled with the work of many artists, which she ran with her sister. When the gallery closed a few years later, Lorraine was turning 60. She says, “It was very clear at the time. I said to myself, ‘You have worked hard. Now it’s time to do what you want to do.”
What she wanted was to start a production pottery studio, and jump into wholesaling. She lists her work on a wholesale crafts website, and started exhibiting at the Buyers Market in 2011. At the time, she recalls that the timing was right, even in a recession. Her bright, colorful work brought a fresh look to the market, and her price points were based on what she knew she would be looking for as a retailer.
Lorraine designed a line which could be produced by trained assistants, but would also be diverse and attractive to wholesale buyers. She loves the Buyers Market show, saying it provides a “shelter” for artists – because of the ongoing relationship between the promoters and their exhibitors, without the insecurity of re-jurying every year.
Today, many retirees and older Americans are looking for productive fulfillment in their lives, as well as additional income. The AARP is currently running a marketing campaign where vibrant seniors decide “what they want to be when they grow up.” It can make sense for seniors to start a business at this time of life, on their own terms – like Lorraine Oerth.
The Arts Business Institute conducts workshops for artists of all ages to learn the business of art. We also offer personalized consulting to help creative entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses.