Story By Hannah Lester / Photos By Janis Davis
If you’re anything like me, then your kitchen cabinets are filled with pottery. Plates, bowls, tumblers, you name it.
Now, you may be nothing like me. But, if you’d like to stock up on more pottery — local potter Janis Davis is an option.
“I work as an art teacher at Beulah in Valley, Alabama,” Davis said. “This is my 18th year teaching but only my eighth in art. I make wheel-thrown and hand-built functional pottery. I started working with clay in the early 80’s when I started hanging out at my now mother-in-law’s (Pat Davis) pottery studio. I learned to throw on the wheel and work with clay hanging out there.”
Her mother-in-law would invite Davis to come along to her art shows and offered to allow her to sell her work too.
“To keep from being in competition with each other by making similar pieces, I started putting characters on my pieces,” Davis said. “We went to many shows, in fact my sells helped pay my way through college. I quit making pottery when I started teaching but got back into it a few years ago when Pat asked me to make some soup bowls to donate for a charity that the Dempsey Center in Opelika (Parks and Recreation) was hosting. I made many character bowls for that function.
“People seemed to love my pieces. So [I] started making pottery again when I was off in the summer.”
Originally some of these “characters” were just a man, cow and pig, Davis said. But as her pottery grew, she started being asked for other things.
“I have learned that people collect a lot of different animals so I kept experimenting with new designs,” she said. “Every time, I think I have those collectors covered someone will ask for something different. I am not sure how many different characters I have done but I do know my most recent design was a hippo.
“I love to make the characters, but this year I believe my favorite item to make has been platters and pie plates. For years I struggled to make platters and plates, but I watch a tip on YouTube one day and thought I would try it. I was giddy with how easy it was after using the tip. Now, I want to make them all the time.”
Pottery was not her go-to as a child, but that’s to be expected. No child that I know has easy access to pottery.
“I loved to draw when I was a child,” Davis said. “I would often be the person who would draw whenever we did projects at school.”
The pottery turned into more of a business when Davis’ church was having a vender sale, she said. She was making more and more items and working from the Dempsey Center. But as the number of items increased, Davis said she felt she needed to start working from her home studio.
“When we were making and selling at craft fairs in the past, we had two big gas kilns,” she said. “We have not run those kilns in 20 years. The propane gas tanks were long removed, and frankly, I was scared to use them again. So Pat and I decided to get a new electric kiln. I got my new kiln in October, and added shelving to my studio to display my pottery on.
“I posted on Facebook about my studio and received a lot of feedback and many people came to shop. Word of mouth brought more customers. We did extremely well during the Christmas season. I am still new at this business thing so I am figuring it out as it is happening. I am very thankful for the wonderful turnout and the love I have received from my customers.”