How Bella Joy Pottery Started

How Bella Joy Pottery Started

The summer between first grade and second grade we moved. That fall I started going to St. Margaret's, a small Catholic school, in Otsego, MI. One day, Mrs. She-who-shall-not-be-named, came into the classroom carrying these weird long boxes. She explained to us that these boxes contained 20 candy bars that we needed to schlep around and sell. Ok, great. I didn't want to sell a box of candy bars! But then something magical happened, she took out the prize catalog. Depending on how many candy bars we sold we could get a prize! Sign me up! I took my box of chocolates and headed out. I will admit that first year I only sold one box of candy. I thought that's good enough. Wrong, I was not the highest seller.

In third grade, I regrouped. There was a phone in the prize catalog, it had to be mine. I really picked up the pace that year, I put door-to-door vacuum salespeople to shame and when that didn't work, I called everyone I knew (thank you older siblings!). I was so happy when I sold enough candy bars for a phone, I had to be the top seller! But of course not, because one of my classmates parent's took the candy bars to work and sold them for their kid. I was outraged! Rule breaker! I went home and asked my dad to take my candy bars to work. No Heidi, he said, it's your job to sell those candy bars. As a kid, I thought my dad was a jerk for doing this. As an adult, I am now familiar with the term helicopter parents. I still got the phone, it is probably in my parents' attic.

I had been bitten by the selling bug. I went on to sell dried flowers, I tried selling kids art classes, the most yearbook ads, and when I worked at the Doster Store making pizza I was always trying to break the record for the most pizzas sold in a night. I loved that feeling of setting a goal and reaching it. I will admit along the way many goals were also not met. I just kept going.

Heidi Fahrenbacher's dried flower stand built by her dad in the early 1990s

In college, I apprenticed for Tom Kendall, a local potter. One day, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, "be like you." What I meant was be a studio potter who makes pottery and sells it. He told me I may have to teach too, I said no I don't want to. Oh 19-year-old arrogance I miss you.

When I was 25, I was working for Michael Kifer, another local potter. A couple days before Christmas I asked to leave an hour early to meet with a customer, who had ordered some mugs. He said to me, my work is more important than yours. I thought to myself, it is to you it is, but not to me. I went in the next day and gave my two month notice. (That's not a typo, I was trying to be nice. Plus, Michael and I are still friends. Later, I caught myself saying something similar to one of my assistant, darn karma!)

How Bella Joy Pottery started was in February of 2006, I quit my job and starting doing pottery full-time in a quarter of my parents' old chicken coop. February in Michigan is really cold, really cold. The ol' coop wasn't insulated. I had a wood stove in the corner and at night it would go out and my pots would freeze and I would have to start over the next day. The door also didn't shut properly and if it snowed I would have to shovel snow out of the chicken coop in the morning before I could start. This is not a joke, nor an exaggeration. 

Things did improve slowly, I asked to use half the chicken coop, then the whole chicken coop, then part of their garage, and part of my garage. 

In February of 2017, Joe (my spouse) and I bought the new studio. I upgraded from 400 square feet to 1700 square feet. Woo-hoo!

I am leaving A LOT out. I am giving you the highlight reel. The downsides included not into graduate school, doing side jobs that included teaching ceramics, roofing, etc., STRESS, being broke, credit card debt, hip surgery, physical therapy, broken down vans, fender benders, and wanting to sell the new studio as soon as we bought it because I didn't think I deserved it.

I used to feel so bad about the unconventional path of Bella Joy Pottery, I didn't follow any rules: no business plan, no gradually quitting my job. When I was interview by Paul Blais, on the Potters Cast, he stopped me and said "you still threw cation to the wind and still arrived at a place where you are making it."

I hadn't thought of it like that. He was right. That's why I wanted to tell you my story. What you see on social media isn't real. Is curated to look nice, but the path to here hasn't always been pretty or nice and it's actually those hard times that I have learned the most. It is cliche but true.

But let's be honest, none of this would have been possible if it wasn't for all my loyal customers! From the customers who came to my first open house in my parents' dining room in 2001 to Water Street Coffee my longest held wholesale account. To all of you, thank you, it really means a lot to be able to create pottery with my two hands and sell to you all.

Heidi Fahrenbacher dirty sock plate 2018

I've been working on some new pieces that have illustrations on them about our desire for perfection but falling short, or our perception of falling short. This is something I have been struggling with for a long time and like the way it comes out in my drawings.


  • Dorothy on

    This is great, Love to hear the history of your life, you are amazing.💖

  • Gary Peake on

    I remember your time at the Doster Store. Good for you, your Dad did the right thing. Small town girl doing well, on her own . Look at the beautiful things you make then pay the rent. I’m proud to know you Heidi. Gary Peake

  • Mary Overman on

    Heidi – I so enjoyed this post and your interview. And I love the theme of your new work! The picture on the dish above is classic! Looking forward to seeing all the wonderful examples of "imperfection (i.e., real life) that you come up with. ~Mary

  • Fritz Fahrenbacher on

    Gosh, Heidi, what a mean father you have. Boy, am I happy that he is not my Dad!!!!! Imagine, not taking candy bars to work to sell for his youngest daughter.

    Anyway, love

    Dad

  • Tracy Buck on

    Oh my sweet dear sister. You are amazing. Keep creating so we can all be blessed by your life changing art.?. Rock on or should I say ceramic on!!!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published