The Clay Coyote has a feeling of home as soon as you walk in the door. I had the privilege in 2015 of feeling that sense of home for the first time. I was a senior in high school and went to Dassel-Cokato. I was in a college English class and had to conduct an interview on a local business and write a paper about it. I decided to do the Clay Coyote because it was right down the street from me. This was the most fun and inviting interview I had ever been a part of. I felt like I was sitting at home talking to family.
I want to share the piece I wrote two years ago, I hope it conveys how I felt and you too can experience the joy of art and family as well:
The small, simplicity of a yunomi tea glass is much more intricate than an average tea cup. The definite ridges go all the way around the glass; the divot in the rim sticks out like a sore thumb, yet has so much beauty knowing it is different from the rest. It may be short in stature, but it is firm and strong knowing pottery lasts forever. This was a piece I received from Tom and Betsy from the Clay Coyote Pottery and Gallery, which taught me numerous lessons about how life and pottery connect.
Art has always been a passion of the couple. What started out as a hobby turned into a full-fledged operation in 1993. Tom developed a passion for pottery while in college and continued making pottery in his basement and garage. He distinctly remembers the earthy smell of the clay which made him fall in love. Although he had a strong liking for making pottery, he never felt his work was good enough. That is when Betsy stepped in and entered him into a pottery show without his knowing. I remember the love and laughter in the air during the telling of this story. When his pottery was successfully sold, this gave him the confidence he needed in order to take the next step. The process of developing Clay Coyote was a bit of a long one, but once they decided on their location, it was go time to build the studio and showroom to start filling orders.
The person who has made their business into what it is today is Paula Wolfert, a popular Mediterranean cookbook author. She needed a couscous colander for one of her cooking classes and saw an article in Food and Wine magazine which featured Clay Coyote’s work. She contacted the author of the article in order to retrieve Clay Coyote’s information. She contacted them with her idea, and they went to work. At the time, they had no idea how famous of a person she was! Once they were finished with her project, she fell in love with their work and continued asking for other types of cookware. This launched them into their biggest collection of pottery and what is mostly sold today.
Together, Tom and Betsy keep the place running all year long, and have done so for the past 23 years. Tom does the throwing of the pottery while Betsy fires and glazes the pieces. Betsy, or “firebug” as Tom called her because of her love of firing, loves the potential and unexpectedness a piece has when it goes into the kiln. The anticipation of a piece coming to life while in the kiln is something she enjoys. As she described, “The [gas] kiln is a living, breathing thing, like a dragon breathing its fire.” Tom’s favorite piece to make happens to be the yunomi tea glass because there is no pure discipline when making it; it is freely thrown. Because of this, each one is unique and has its own story to tell. Every piece in their collection has a lasting legacy that will continue to tell its story to its new owner.
The cookware and all other pottery is supposed to be used, while others might think it belongs on the shelf for viewing. That is not the purpose of what Tom and Betsy have created. They believe in the Japanese philosophy of pottery style, which is simplicity and utility. Japanese believe the base of life is to be aware of the things they use everyday and being thankful for what they have. Tom and Betsy incorporate this style into every piece of pottery. They wanted the pieces to be completely handmade and useful in daily life. Sitting on the shelf and looking pretty is not their intended use for their work. When making the pottery, one piece from start to finish takes about three to four weeks. Some pieces take more or less time because of the style. Because of this length, they try to produce an average of 100 pieces per week. A yearly average for them is about 5,000 pieces. They work hard everyday not to produce “product”, but to make their customers happy. When a customer goes home with their work, Tom always feels like it is still incomplete. But when the customers come back and tell them how they use their pottery and how much they enjoy it, “It makes it all worth it,” Tom shared, “and it completes the piece.” And because each piece is so unique and different from another, Tom says he hears stories of families buying multiple bowls or mugs and each child picks their favorite one because of some unique aspect, “and by golly you don’t touch their bowl!” Others being able to see the difference and the beauty in the pottery allows one to connect with it and have its story told. As Tom informed me, “If you want it all to match, go to Target!”
Among the wonder life lesson about uniqueness, I learned many more listening to the wisdom of Tom. While watching him construct his art, I learned how the creation of pottery is similar to creating yourself. The flowing motion of constructing the pottery is like constructing the person one wants to become. There may be cracks or faults created along the way, but they can be fixed and do not define a person. This is also what makes someone unique. When certain features or designs are added, it truly makes one stand out from the rest, which is better than looking exactly like everyone else. I also learned looking at the finished product is like how one can evaluate themselves. “Pride is in good work,” Tom informed me, which made me realize how true of a statement it is. When you create something you hate or while you are in a bad mood, it will show in the work. ”Good work lasts, and that is your legacy.” He also told me to pursue something you love; something which is fun and enjoyable. Otherwise be prepared to hate what you’re doing! While learning all of these beautiful life lessons, I felt like I was sitting on the couch talking to family. The atmosphere was so warm and inviting, which helped cultivate more stories.
When asked what their favorite part of their job was, I received a surprising answer. It was not making the pottery like I thought it would be. It was working with the customers. On a daily basis they interact with customers when handling orders or when they come view the gallery. They enjoy the human interaction and building relationships with people. Most of their social life revolves around their customers, and through this they have met many wonderful people. Many frequent customers have been made because of the personal relationships formed. When customers come back and tell them stories about using their pottery, Tom and Betsy feel like they are a part of the customer’s life. They are now incorporated into their everyday life or family traditions. Tom described a possible scenario, like when someone uses one of their mugs, it is like having coffee with them every morning. An interesting story Tom shared was a lady had bought several coffee cups for her best friends who lived all around country. When they all received the cups, they all had coffee at the same time with their cups and have now made it a tradition. Stories like these truly support art having a story and an impact on people’s lives.
Because customer relationships are so important to them, it is the very thing they will miss when they retire. Sadly, the couple plans on retiring in late spring or early summer. But not to worry, Clay Coyote will still be up and running but with a slightly different twist. Their daughter, Morgan, will be taking over the gallery but in a new way that will help others. Her plan is to keep the gallery and studio, but split the studio into three mini studios. She plans to rent out the mini studios to recent college graduates trying to start their art career and gain the credentials and business experience needed in order to be successful. The students can then sell their work in the gallery and earn money to one day open their own studio and gallery. I find it so inspiring she wants to help other artists begin their dreams and start making art that will tell their stories.
The yunomi tea glass is different from everything else created. With its petite stature and simplistic beauty, it tells a riveting story that is unique from every other piece of pottery, even another yunomi glass. It may be small but it is mighty, and it will live on forever. Just like the lasting legacy of Clay Coyote.
All of this still holds true today. Everyone here is such a delight to be around and I’m happy to be a part of the Clay Coyote family. To experience this feeling for yourself and browse amongst the beautiful gallery, come to Clay Coyote Gallery and Pottery located in Hutchinson, MN from 10-5pm Monday-Saturday and noon-4pm on Sunday.
The feeling you receive from the enlightening atmosphere will stay with you long after you leave the gallery and keep you coming back for more.