Fairbanks Pottery Studio | Nancy Fairbanks

Today's featured business leader is really special to me - she's my mom!

I took a road trip back home to Nebraska for a really quick weekend visit to meet my brand new nephew. (Yay, I'm an aunt!!)

While I was there I squeezed in a quick personal branding photo shoot with my mom. It was so much fun!! She's a professional potter and sells her artwork all across the country.

We got some fabulous photos of her throwing on the wheel.

We even did an interview -- meet Nancy!

I LOVE her laugh :)

Words from Nancy

Kasey: Tell me about your business - Fairbanks Pottery Studio

Nancy: I've been in business for over 34 years. To keep me interested for that long, I've learned a bunch of different firing techniques, I experiment by mixing my own glaze formulations, and I create all kinds of different styles of pottery and sculpture. It changes all the time, I'm even doing bronze now!

I exhibit my pieces in galleries and I also travel all over the midwest to sell at art shows. Art shows are more fun than galleries because I get to create connections with my customers. Later, when they look at the artwork they purchased they'll remember the happy memory of interacting with me at the show.

I also teach art classes in Nebraska both at my studio and through artist-in-residence programs at elementary and high schools. These are great because I get to come in to a school for a full week and teach all the kids how to make their very own pots - from kindergarten up to 12th grade. Many schools invite me back each year and it's so fun to watch the kids grow.

Kasey: How did you get started in clay?

Nancy: The first time I ever touched clay was in the 8th grade in art class. I'm still so grateful to my first art teacher. This is all his fault and he is my favorite. The very first piece I made was a little tiny yellow elephant and my Mom still has it! What kind of mom saves your very first piece?! She's great!!

My favorite part about pottery was - and still is - wheel throwing. If I could sit and throw all day I'd be a happy camper. I remember learning and feeling the clay moving beneath my hands for the first time. It was so exciting. I was addicted right then, I was hooked. So then in high school I worked in clay every chance I got - I was in before school, after school, anytime the teacher would let me. I would barter with my teacher - "If I draw your ugly milk can, can I throw?"

My high school art teacher did the best thing anyone could have done for me. I came in after school one day and my teacher and three of the guys from my art class picked me up, threw me on the table, held me down, and trimmed my long fingernails. Andrew and Bruce held my arms, John sat on my legs, and the teacher cut my nails. He'd been telling me for months that I had to cut them if I wanted to work on the wheel. At the time I had filed, shaped, beautiful manicured nails - I wasn't cutting them. So he did. And I've never gone back. I'm still thankful to them for all of this.

Then I went to college and studied pre-med. But the clay won and the clay took over. I couldn't break the addiction.

Kasey: What was it like to sell your first piece?

Nancy: One of my college professors - a painting professor - was the first to buy a piece from me. It was a ring sculpture. And it was ... strange. The weird thing was I spent many hours working on that. It was a creation out of my mind and the fact that he liked it enough that he wanted to trade money for something that came out of my mind....it was a very weird concept.

When you make something, it's a piece of you. For me, to look at a pot brings back a moment in time. Gilligan's Island was on when I was making that piece, or the Beatles were playing on the radio when I was glazing that one. It's very bizarre how that happens. But it is like a moment in time, so when someone takes that away from me it's kind of weird because it's my memory that they're walking away with.

Some pieces now are very difficult for me to sell because of what was taking place while I was building it or the memory that it brings back to me. I don't want to let that go. Also, a piece that means a lot to me - like a sculpture of one of my cats - is hard to let go. Especially my large people sculptures. I spend months with them, so we have a connection - which is bizarre.

Kasey: What do you love most about your job?

Nancy: The tactile experience of being able to take a piece of the earth and create something that wasn't there before. It's like magic. These pots all began as a chunk of earth. I also love the freedom to create whatever pops into my mind.

I like building things that are more challenging. The human sculptures are my favorite right now. They're super tall and they shouldn't be able to be made out of clay. When someone says "you can't make that" I'm just like..."hold my Mountain Dew..." and I figure it out.

Kasey: What makes Fairbanks Pottery stand out?

Nancy: I love creating a very eclectic body of work. Not just the traditional functional pots, but also funky, whimsical, and contemporary pieces. My favorite is the funky stuff - I want to make crazy unusual pieces that nobody else does. And I like working with bright colors. The traditional function work is where potters start learning but I've extended that to create my own styles.

Kasey: What is your favorite type of firing technique?

Nancy: I do a variety of alternative firing techniques like pit firing - which is Native American - and raku - which is an ancient Japanese technique. I love doing raku. I got excited about it during a workshop with Paul Soldner who was a world famous potter who really brought the Japanese technique to America. He got me really excited about it and then I experimented from there.

I used to have a big dog with a fluffy chow tail named Buster. One time he brushed passed a pot as I was pulling it out of the kiln. It singed his tail hairs on my pot and I was so mad! But I looked at the pot and it was beautiful. It made these beautiful black squiggly lines on the white pot and it was so dramatic and beautiful. It didn't hurt him because he had a long feathery chow tail so only the hairs touched the pot. But he wasn't willing to donate any more hair, so I had to experiment to do it again.

I found that horse and cow hair work best for singeing onto the pots. So for over a year I sold them as Buster Pots. People loved my Buster Pots that he had invented. But then I was at a show in Kansas City, and a lady said "oh, I bought one like that last week in Santa Fe" and I was crushed. I googled it, and found that the Hopi Indians had beat me to the horse hair pots by hundreds of years. Pottery is tough because you think you have something unique and somebody somewhere has already done it, you just don't know where.

Kasey: You've been a full time potter for 34 years, do you have any recommendations to those just starting out in the professional art world?

Nancy: The most important is focus, focus, focus. Treat your art as a job. Discipline. Set your hours and work them all. That’s the problem most people have - they don’t work hard enough. I recommend working 10-15 hour days, then work some more.

When I was in school they didn’t teach us anything about art fairs or gallery contracts or marketing. I did my first art show the week before graduation. I took a couple tables and some pots. I knew nothing and it was scary. I did ok, and had to learn since this was my future. I learned mostly by watching other people and seeing how they ran their booths. I still watch and look at art booths and displays - the learning never ends.

The most difficult part for me was learning how to do the art shows and how to stand out. I recommend starting with small shows to learn the basics. Then keep your eyes open and watch what others are doing and what they're making...then make the opposite.

Kasey: What are you most excited about right now?

Nancy: I'm getting ready for my big holiday event in November! It's a pottery open house where I get to showcase all my new styles and debut my big exciting sculptures. I open up my studio and display my art through the whole space plus my house. It's fun to get to show people where I make things and how the process works.

We have music, holiday decorations, cookies, and tons of people - it's so much fun!! My patrons look forward to the event every year and keep it on their calendars.

The Details

Nancy Fairbanks

Fairbanks Pottery Studio

Grand Island, NE


Holiday Open House

If you would like more information about creating personal branding photos for your brand you might like to check out my Personal Branding page.

Sending good vibes and love! - Kasey

PS - I would love for you to share this blog post with your friends! 'Like' my Facebook Page to see more photo shoots and business feature interviews.

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Kasey Grim |  Denver, Colorado

©2019 by Fractured Frame Photography

5908 Gunbarel Ave, Boulder CO 80301

Denver Photographers | Denver Photographer | Portraits + Personal Branding


Denver photographer, Kasey Grim, is one of the few Denver photographers who specializes in working with entrepreneurs and small businesses.  Kasey loves to work with clients who appreciate the "not so corporate" natural look and lifestyle portrait photography. She serves the Denver and Boulder area of Colorado.