Sunday, December 9, 2012

A New Home for Lowell Hill Pottery?

That is the question. This has certainly been an eventful year for Lowell Hill Pottery. It looks as though this year will end in the black - a first and not at all bad for the third year of a five year start-up. If that happens, it won't be due to a lack of challenges.

First there was the scrap metal fiasco that lost me the pug mill, then the fuel oil leak (resulting from said fiasco) that had us all in a panic (but amounted to naught). Then Sheila Varnum passed away - perhaps the most traumatic of all the events.

The legendary brick path was closed to pottery traffic for the first time in 80 years - not an unreasonable thing since the house would be inhabited by new tenants. Most of the summer was taken up with renovation to the house. And make no mistake about it, the house is absolutely beautiful as a result.

The new tenants weren't so sure about living in a space that was also occupied by a working business. A few panicked phone calls and about three days of very nervous waiting resulted in a compromise whereby Lowell Hill Pottery could remain in the building for one more season, but had to move after that.

So there it is. 2013 will be my final year at the old Rowantrees building.

It's not a bad thing, really. The building is well over 150 years old and showing every day of that age. There is so much rot in the walls that you can scoop it out with your bare hands. Window panes have started falling out of their frames. Of course, there is no heat. There hasn't been since 2008.

Add to that the lead contamination - some from the Rowantrees years but most from the fact that the buildings are old enough to have been painted with lead paint many times over.

Yeah, it's time to go. I would have preferred to wait at least one more year, but for one other small detail: I really need to be able to work year round on pottery. Having only five months out of each year to do the work is not compatible with increasing business volume or turning this pottery into the business I want it to be.

So the planning is now well under way. I have drawn up a plan for a modest studio space to go in the field by my house. I have spoken with a contractor and will soon start the agonizing process of figuring out how to pay for this. Here is a sketch of the floor plan and a picture of how it will look:

The dimensions are 24 by 36 feet and it will be on a simple concrete slab. I had hoped for a walk-in cellar space for the studio with one floor above for the stockroom and sales area, but I learned a hard lesson about what it costs to build from scratch.

At first, I thought about a 24 by 48 with a walk-in cellar and upstairs with a full bath, office and closet space. Thinking that was going to cost too much, I drafted a second plan that reduced the floor space to 24 by 32. Well, that smaller plan got estimated at $182,000. No way.

The illustrated plan above is not much larger than a generous two-car garage and is currently estimated at $67,000. That's still pretty steep, but I do want to do this right. That means energy efficiency and good choices in building materials. I have good people ready to help.

So now it's about the money. I am preparing to launch a project at If you have never heard of it, Kickstarter is a web-based funding platform for creative projects. People like me who have a need for funding can put up a project and others willing to help can pledge support. There are premiums for those pledges as well. It's a lot like the pledge drives you see and hear on public broadcasting - but without the interruptions.

I will be posting updates on the studio project here, on my Facebook page, and on the Lowell Hill Pottery website. In the meantime, the most important thing I can do is build interest and community around this. Please help me spread the word about the Lowell Hill Pottery studio project so that when it is launched, there will be interested people ready to have a look.

The Rowantrees heritage and tradition deserves to survive.

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