Welcome back to our latest JAR Interview where we bring you insights from extraordinary people making a difference in dog-themed events and activities. Today, we're stepping into the world of artisan pottery with Leslie Guay, the owner and creative mind behind Muddy Paw Pottery Shop, located in New Hampshire's beautiful Lakes Region. Leslie, who recently showcased her work at the second annual Paws in the Park event in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire, shares her journey from a curious beginner to a successful pottery maker whose unique pieces captivate the hearts of not just dog lovers, but all who appreciate the magic of handcrafted art.
Paws in the Park, organized by The Buddies, LLC; Tuftonboro Parks and Recreation; and The Lakes Region Humane Society, was a celebration of all things canine. With a variety of pet vendors, food trucks, and engaging shows, the event was a treat for dogs and their human companions. The festival even included a doggy ice cream social party! What made the event even more special was that the proceeds went towards supporting the Lakes Region Humane Society.
In this enlightening interview, Leslie shares more about her creative process, her experiences at dog festivals, and the joy she finds in creating something that makes people smile. Sit back, grab a cup of tea (perhaps in a Muddy Paw original mug!), and delve into Leslie's pottery world, one shaped by love, dogs, and clay.
Key Takeaways from Our Interview with Leslie
Muddy Paw Pottery pieces are as functional as they are beautiful. Each item, whether it's a dog bowl or a coffee mug, is microwave and dishwasher safe. The pottery items are made using reclaimed clay, demonstrating Leslie's commitment to reducing waste.
Leslie emphasizes the importance of preparation and planning before participating in festivals like Paws in the Park. With pieces needing to go through bisque and glaze fires at a community kiln, and booth setup requirements, her advice to other artisans is to do plenty of research and always be ready to adapt on the fly.
Despite being a newbie, Leslie found the experience of participating in Paws in the Park enjoyable and inspiring. It not only increased the visibility of her pottery shop but also motivated her to explore further opportunities, including approaching local stores and enhancing her website for e-commerce.
Can you briefly describe Muddy Paw Pottery and the inspiration behind your work?
Muddy Paw Pottery was born from a bucket list item: to learn how to throw on the wheel. I spin and knit too. Textures are a big thing for me, I guess. I signed up for classes at The Pottery Paddock and found that I don't have the patience for the wheel. But I found that I could be incredibly creative hand building with clay. (Hand building is just like Play Doh....you can make anything rolling clay out and cutting out shapes and joining them together. It's also a lot of fun to sculpt things too.) My dog, Ario, is a pandemic puppy, with a high energy level. We work with Laura, owner of Miss Behavior, and Meghan of Inspire K-9, and I wanted to make something as a thank you gift to them. Making something dog specific was what started Muddy Paw Pottery NH. Not all of my creations are dog centric, but I tried to make things that I thought might make other dog owners smile.
Your pottery is so beautiful and unique! Could you share a bit more about the process you go through to create pieces like your dog bowls and coffee mugs?
In creating any of the mugs and bowls I make, it's the same basic process.... rolling out the clay to the desired thickness, cutting out the shapes I need, imprinting them with the design I have in my head, and joining all the pieces together. (Sometimes when it's hard to get to sleep I design pottery pieces.) The piece will "set" for a while to firm up to a leather hard stage, where I can handle it without warping it. While I wait for it to get to this phase, I will go into my "studio" space and visit, (I've seen posts on FB from other potters that do this as well, they go in and check on their pieces before they go to bed at night) to check on how they are curing. Once they are leather hard, I will smooth out all the imperfections. Then I leave them alone to dry. Once dry, they are transported to the community kiln where they are bisque fired. They travel home in a cardboard box, where I will paint them with industry standard food safe glazes, available at all pottery supply houses. Once glazed, they are transported back to the community kiln where they go through a glaze firing. And then they are ready to be used.
Can you tell us about the materials you use in your pottery? I'm sure our readers would love to know what goes into these gorgeous pieces!
I'm currently using reclaim clay. Which is a mixture of the scraps that the potters at the community studio have left over, which I have run through the pug mill to mix them back together again. Nice that nothing goes to waste.
Your dog bowls and coffee mugs are truly stand-out items. Are they designed to be functional as well as decorative?
All of the items I create are meant to bring a smile to people's faces and are microwave and dishwasher safe. The inventory in my shop is low right now, but we are open for online sales. We are only able to ship within the US and PR right now. My next event is The Great NH Pie Festival in September, so I'm creating fall themed items, but I still make dog items in between. And then gearing up for the holidays as well.
What made you decide to sell your pottery at a dog-focused event like Paws in the Park?
Once you get the pottery bug, you start making things. And there are only so many things you can fob off onto friends and family. So, as it started to pile up my husband told me I needed to do something with all of my creations. It was a good nudge to spend time making products that were more professional and less like ashtrays. The universe inspired to put the notice about Paws in the Park in my view and it came together.
How has the response been to your clay dog bowls and other products at dog events?
People at the event had the reaction I had hoped for: it made them smile. And quite a few of them actually bought my creations, which was incredibly flattering.
Could you describe your preparation process before a festival like Paws in the Park?
There is a timeline to getting items ready. My items are fired in a community kiln, so I have to be sure that I'm making things far enough in advance that they can make their way through a bisque fire and a glaze fire. There was also the logistics of the physical needs of the booth: tent and tables and display stands, etc. I belong to some online pottery groups, and people are always posting helpful ideas, including booth set up and where to purchase items.
Have you noticed any unique trends or preferences among your customers at dog festivals?
People tended to purchase the small bowls before the mugs, but that could be price point overriding interest. This time of year is not really craft season, and people were there for their dogs, not really themselves. Plus trying to connect with your dog and other dogs while your hands are full of breakable pottery is not easy. But a lot of people took business cards, and it got me some visibility.
Can you share a memorable experience or interaction you had at Paws in the Park?
As far as memorable experiences, interacting with people, especially the young people, is always enjoyable. As an added bonus, I got to pat all kinds of dogs and talk with their hoomans. It was a lot of fun, and I look forward to next year. Rebecca (?) who organized the event did an amazing job.
How do you navigate the logistics of setting up and running a booth at such events?
Advice from a newbie about selling wares at a dog event.... I can share observations.... I heard a couple of people comment to their dogs "I know, we're really here for you" so I think they would be more likely to purchase items specifically for their pooch. Again, this time of year is not really a big craft fair season, and this wasn't billed as a craft fair, it was a pet celebration. But it was a fantastic opportunity to get visibility, and a couple of people asked if I was in any of the stores in town (Wolfboro), and it gave me some confidence to approach some businesses with my wares. Circling back to carrying breakables around at the event, it also was a good push to get my act together and make my website e-commerce enabled.
What advice would you give to other artisans considering selling their wares at a dog festival?
Advice from a newbie about starting a tiny business to sell off things you enjoy making and possibly make a small return on -- do a lot of research, talk to a lot of people who already do sell their items. There is no clear path out there about how to set up a small business. I found that with all that I tried to learn before setting out, a couple of things had to be done off the hip. And I didn't anticipate demand at all. I guess as a creator, I wasn't sure that there would be many people that were interested in what I make.
Do you plan to continue participating in dog festivals? If so, why?
Participating in Paws in the Park was totally enjoyable, and I would love to do it again. Seeing other dogs there provided inspiration for colorings but also for mannerisms that can be incorporated into what I make.
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