How It's Made
How It's Made
Welcome to the heart of Gravesco Pottery. Here, we believe that understanding the journey of a piece of pottery - from a simple mound of clay to the cherished object in your home - deepens the connection you feel every time you use it. It's not just about the final product; it's about the story, the craftsmanship and the love that goes into each piece we make.
Our process is a meticulous dance between the hands of our artisans and the natural elements of earth and heat. It is a series of steps between several talented humans over the course of several weeks that ensures the pottery you bring into your home is more than just a vessel - it is a piece of art, a piece of us and now, a piece of your story.
As you explore the stages of our process, we hope you gain a newfound appreciation for the thought, care and expertise that goes into each piece of Gravesco pottery. We're excited to share this journey with you.
Our materials and tools
Because it is important that we do no more harm than absolutely necessary to the process in the making of pottery, sourcing our materials is something we hold near and dear. All of our stoneware clay is regionally made either in Lexington, Kentucky or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our glaze materials are almost exclusively ordered from a local pottery supply house and while most are not directly from our region, we choose to order locally to minimize the need for shipping as much as possible. Aside from a few of the materials that add color to our glazes, virtually everything we use is from the United States and purchased from independently owned, small family businesses.
In order to ensure the highest level of control over the ingredients and the process, we mix all our glazes in the studio from raw materials using our own recipes. This allows us to make subtle shifts and adjustments as needed. Glaze chemistry is its own bit of alchemy combining chemistry and physics of not only the glaze itself but how it reacts to the clay in the kiln when it goes through the firing process up to 2135 degrees fahrenheit.
Our nine kilns are all electric fired kilns and we're operating on 208 three phase industrial power in our studio building which leads to more efficient firing without fossil fuels. The kilns we use the most have an extra inch of fire brick insulation making the firing process even more efficient.
We care deeply about the safety and longevity of our pottery and as such, never use any lead in our clay or glazes!
The process of making pottery
The process of making pottery from raw clay to finished piece is on average two weeks. Smaller pieces may be able to go through the process faster whereas larger pieces may take longer. To add to the adventure, the ambient humidity plays a role in the process as well because it can greatly affect the drying time.
Let's walk through the steps so you have a clear understanding:
- We receive the clay in 1000-2800 lb batches at a time. The clay is delivered in 50 lb boxes that we offload by hand into our clay area. We joke in the studio that clay delivery day should be renamed to "Clay Crossfit Day." This amount of clay will last 1-3 weeks depending on what we're making.
- One of our studio team will prepare the clay twice a week by combining 3 parts fresh clay straight out of the box with 1 part reclaimed really wet clay slop in our pug mill which homogonizes the mixture making it softer and also de-airs the clay to remove any air bubbles eliminating the painful process of wedging the clay. While wedging can be a soothing process and we do it for larger pieces, the repetitive motion can cause a lot of wear and tear on our hands, wrists, shoulders and back so unless absolutely necessary, we prefer to save those muscles for the parts of the process they are truly needed. Once the clay is made it is stored in storage totes layered in plastic for up to 3 days while Rebecca works on throwing the pots for the week.
- Next, a production list is created for the week so we all know what is being made and can stay on track to get everything made for orders! Each log of clay is measured, cut and weighed to a specific weight. By using the same amount of clay each time, we know exactly how tall and wide that piece of clay is capable of being stretched. For example, our signature mugs are 1 lb 4 oz of clay every time which allows us to get the size quite consistent.
- Now for the fun part. Rebecca will throw each pot, by hand, on the potters wheel then store it in a damp box for 1-3 days depending on the ambient humidity. Fresh off the wheel the clay is too soft to do the finishing details so we'll keep it in the damp box to slowly dry until it is just the right level of firmness for trimming and finishing.
- The damp box is simply a set of wooden shelving wrapped in plastic that keeps the pots from drying too quickly by controlling the evaporation of water
- Once the clay has dried to just the right level of humidity it goes to another part of the studio to have the bottom trimmed. At this point the potter will use tools to shape and clean up the bottoms of the pots and give them a final quality check before they are moved onto wire carts to dry for a few days. Generally, in an Indiana summer this takes about 5-7 days before they are dry enough to go into their first kiln firing. During the winter it can range from 2 days to 2 weeks. It can be a roller coaster of an adventure in the pottery studio here in Indiana with the random weather!
- Once dry, the pottery is checked for any bumps, bubbles, divots or odd spots that need to be gently sanded and it is all loaded into a kiln for a bisque firing. This firing goes to 1875 degrees with a specific computer controlled firing program to ensure all the organic materials are burned out properly and the pieces are sturdy enough to be handled with our sharp glaze tongs but also soft enough to absorb the right amount of glaze. This process takes approximately 30 hours from beginning to the time it is cool enough to unload.
- Next, the pot bottoms are gently dipped in hot wax to create a resist for the glaze then dipped into a bucket of glaze. The bottoms are wiped clean and it is set on a wire cart to dry.
- Finally, the pottery is put back into a kiln and fired to 2135 degrees as a final glaze firing. This process is anywhere from 20-28 hours from the time we turn the kiln on until it is cool enough to unload safely.
- If the pottery is receiving an image transfer or logo, that is an additional process of printing, hand cutting, applying the image then a third firing which takes approximately 18 hours from starting the kiln to unloading.
- A final quality check from Mackenzie or Rebecca is performed before the pots are handed off to Christopher for safe packing.
- From beginning to end up to 7 people will have their hands on each pot before it leaves the studio. Not only is it our work, it is our passion and we care deeply about each and every piece we make, knowing that it is going to be treasured in your home for years to come.
Every form we produce is designed by our owner and founder, Rebecca Graves Prowse, with a focus on function then form. What this means to you is that we work diligently to ensure our pottery functions well in your kitchen and home. The signature pinched handles, for instance, were designed specifically to reduce the amount of effort required to hold and balance a full mug of coffee. Your fingers nestle into the handle just so, like you're holding hands with the maker, and balancing is effortless even when you've poured hot coffee or tea all the way to the rim. Some of the other key design elements include:
- Tapered lips on drinking vessels to minimize or eliminate dribbles.
- Bottoms trimmed with a slight undercut so the pot appears to be floating on the surface of your table. While this doesn't necessarily serve a function it does provide the subtle illusion that the pottery is even lighter than it appears.
- Thumb indentations on the cups provide a cozy spot to snuggle the cup or mug but also provide additional room for your knuckles beneath the handle of our mugs or a "worry spot" to fidget with if you're a fidgeter like us.
- Throwing rings from our fingertips add visual interest, create comfortable ridges for gripping our cups and bowls and again, are a terrific tactile spot for fidgeting or self soothing anxiety.
At Gravesco Pottery, our team is everything. We have a relaxed work environment that allows each of our team members to work within their particular zone of genius. Some of our team like to do all the things and will hop from task to project to another task throughout the day. Some prefer to hyperfocus and just do one thing really well. It's important to us that each person is able to work the way that most supports them and a schedule that works for them. We're not a strict 8-5 kind of studio. We're not all morning people and we honor that.
- Rebecca Graves Prowse is our CEO, founder and lead potter. Every pot is designed by Rebecca and most of the wheel thrown pots are made by her as well. All the potters on the team learn the specific techniques and processes for each of her designs.
- Christopher Prowse is our COO and Shipping manager. His previous career in architecture lends a structure to our processes and ensures Rebecca's artistic brain doesn't drop the ball on projects! If you need something by a specific time, his project management skills are going to make that happen effortlessly.
- Mackenzie Kozumplik is a studio co-manager. She knows how to do virtually everything in the studio and makes sure that once the pots leave Rebecca's hands at the wheel they make it through all the stages of creation before being handed off to Chris. You can also find Mackenzie one day a week (usually Fridays) at our flagship store helping customers find exactly the right piece of pottery and accompanying goods to send them home with a smile.
- Abby Kepley is also a studio co-manager whose specialty is the people on our team. While she's able to jump into any process at any stage after it's thrown on the wheel, Abby shines most when she's working on a project and brightening everyone's day with her sunny disposition and genuine desire to make the team harmonious. You'll also find Abby using her background in Art Therapy teaching classes at our store!
- Nick Wilson is a studio tech and all around smile factory. Nick has his own pottery studio, NW Pottery, and works at Gravesco wherever he is most needed. Nick can do everything from prepping clay to getting it out the door, mixing glazes, fixing kilns, teaching classes and providing smiles at the store. Click here for a great article about Nick's Pottery.
- Justin Bull is our brand manager who designed our new logo, creates our graphic design elements, runs our laser cutter for custom tools, stamps and fixtures, helps with the online systems, designs and prints our transfer images and is getting his hands dirty in the studio learning the various processes. He is also fabulous at product design and figuring out ways to help us streamline and level up our processes and finishes.
- Kassie Woodworth is a studio assistant learning the tricks of the pottery trade by working her way through each studio process. We are excited to see exactly which direction Kassie takes in the studio as her experience grows! As a fine artist who makes art that inspires change and conversation about human relationships and our interaction with the environment. You can view her art here.
- Perry Mihalakos works as a retail sales associate in our flagship store in the Indianapolis Near Eastside neighborhood and on occasion we engage him in helping with smaller clay projects like the morel mushroom ornaments and tiny pumpkins. Stop into the store on Thursdays and say hi to Perry. He earnestly desires to assist you in finding just the right pottery and accompanying items for yourself or a gift.
- Ryan VanHoy is our current artist in residence and steps in to assist with production throwing when we need an extra set of hands at the wheel. When he's not making Harvest Bowls, Salad Serving Bowls or Large Vases for us, he can be found working on his own pottery for Vanhoy Pottery.
Quality and Sustainability
While we are a production pottery studio which means that we make batches of each form, not just one of a kind shapes, it is important to understand that we are making each pot completely by hand without molds. This means that each pot will have its own unique characteristics and charm, will vary slightly in size and shape and there will be one of a kind touches to each one. My mentor, Steve Smith, told me me early on that the goal isn't to make clones, it is to make families of pots that go together but aren't identical. We take that to heart and celebrate the subtle differences.
There are a host of things throughout the process that can lead to variations in form and finish. Beyond the fact that each pot is either built by hand from slabs or thrown by hand on the wheel, it is handled by real humans at every stage of the process which offers unique opportunities for serendipity. Taking it even further, each batch of clay and glaze materials can have subtle differences that affect the finished pottery. Where the pot is in the kiln, which kiln it is in, how long the heating elements have been in the kiln, the moisture content and specific gravity of the glaze and even what pots are sitting next to each other in the kiln can create variations in the finish. This is the part of handmade pottery that we love the most.
Because we know that making anything is contributing to an environmental impact and because we want to create as little waste as possible in this resource heavy process, we recycle all of our clay scraps and turn them back into usable clay. Some potters don't have the space or capability to do this labor intensive process but we do, and as such find it to be our responsibility. The process of recycling clay is labor intensive but eliminates thousands of pounds of waste each year and that is absolutely worth the effort.
We also reclaim as much water as we can. Nothing from the studio ever goes directly into a sink - we dump all water that we use into a large drum and allow it to settle out. Each day we skim off the clean water from the top and reuse that in various processes throughout the studio. Clay traps under the sink ensure than any clay particles from washing our hands (after first rinsing them in waste buckets) doesn't make its way into the plumbing and ultimately into the sewer.
All of our glaze tests and leftover glazes are dumped together to create our lost recipe glaze. You never quite know what color it will be but so far, it's always gorgeous and saves gallons of glaze from being discarded.
As you can see, the art of pottery is more than just shaping clay—it's a labor of love, a celebration of craftsmanship, and a tribute to the timeless tradition of handmade ceramics.
Every piece of Gravesco Pottery is born from this meticulous process, ensuring that whether you're sipping coffee from one of our mugs or serving dinner on our handmade tableware, you're experiencing the quality, beauty, and soul of truly handmade ceramics.
We're proud to bring you pottery that isn't just functional—it's a part of our story, our passion, and our commitment to the art. By choosing Gravesco Pottery, you're not only enhancing your home with unique, high-quality ceramics, you're also supporting a small business dedicated to sustainable practices and the revival of handmade craftsmanship.
Whether you're looking to add to your existing collection or you're just starting your journey into the world of handmade pottery, we invite you to explore our collections and find the perfect piece for your home. Remember, every piece has a story—from our hands to yours, we can't wait to be a part of your everyday moments.
Ready to start your Gravesco journey? Browse our collections and bring a piece of our story into your home today.