By Gina Malone
Long before receiving a Masters of Education in Visual Arts and opening a ceramics business in 2011, Tori Motyl knew that she wanted to work with clay. “I have my childhood to thank for leading me towards pottery,” she says. “Growing up in the Penfield School District outside of Rochester, NY, I had access to wonderful facilities staffed with teachers who were talented in their fields both as educators and artists.” She recalls a time in elementary school when she made a slab plate. “It was green and cracked and pretty terrible, looking back, but my teacher held it up against the wall and told me that someday she would see my work in a museum. I never forgot how inspiring and influential that moment was and how important it is to pass on that type of encouragement to my students.”
Tori grew her business out of her parents’ basement, converting their garage into a kiln shed. She credits her family with helping her in her early endeavors. “My father, a small business owner, taught me the dedication that goes into being a successful small business owner,” she says. “My mother and brother, both highly organized and professional people, taught me how to think for business, not just for art.” While running her business, she also worked as a pottery instructor at the Memorial Art Gallery where she had taken pottery classes as a child.
In 2014, she and her husband Nick moved to Asheville for the mountains and so that she could pursue her pottery career. Working as a production potter at Hank Goodman Stoneware, Black Mountain Studios and Cathy Gerson Ceramic Design provided her with first-hand and invaluable experience in how to run a studio pottery business, while also honing her skills at production.
She joined The Village Potters Clay Center, she says, “in order to explore my relationship to my pottery more deeply and to learn from skilled potters in the long established tradition of master and apprentice. While under their mentorship, I learned even more about how to run a business, how to improve my skills and how to juggle learning and making money with my pots at the same time. It was in this environment that my business began to really take off.” It was also during this time that she and several Village Potters studiomates began the North Carolina Ceramic Arts Festival, an annual event, now in its fourth year, that celebrates the work of ceramic artists from all over the country.
When not creating, Tori devotes a great deal of her time these days to passing on her skills to others. “Teaching is a big part of what I am doing right now and I have several new and hopefully interesting classes for potters at different levels,” she says. “I like teaching a variety of classes that lend themselves to different types of potters.” Those include a 4-week beginners class; a competitive pottery class for those motivated by friendly competition and seeking constructive criticism on technique and design choices; a speed throwing class covering techniques for increasing speed and repetition; a wild clay class delving into the traditional and root aspects of the craft; a slip surface class exploring surface design as movement recorded on the clay surface; and a class on pots with reed handles, focusing on the traditional method of adding handles without binders or glues.
Tori has begun working primarily in wild clay, clay that she digs and processes herself using traditional methods. “Moving into wild clay has completely changed my relationship with my art,” she says. “Now I view my art as an expression of the clay itself and how I, as the artist, discover the unique properties of each clay I dig and create work that leans into those properties. Now I find myself looking in geology books and reaching out to scientists in internet forums to better understand how the ground around me was created and what science can tell me about the clay I am digging.”
Her process in working with wild clay involves finding and digging it, letting it soak in 5-gallon buckets, using a drill mixer to blend clay and water and a sieve to remove rocks and vegetation, and pouring the liquid clay into fabric hammocks, allowing the excess water to drip off and evaporate until it’s the right consistency for working. Throwing small pieces on the wheel and firing the clay at different temperatures and in different types of kilns helps her plan work around the unique properties of each type of clay that she digs.
“When I make my art I feel completely in my element,” Tori says. “I am filled with satisfaction and happiness to be able to use my time to create work that speaks to me and feels beautiful to me, and to have the knowledge in my mind that when it is complete, I will be able to share it with the world.”
Motyl Pottery is located at The Village Potters Clay Center in Riverview Station, 191 Lyman Street, #180. To learn more, visit MotylPottery.com, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, or call 585.507.5731. Find Tori’s work locally at The Village Potters Clay Center, embellish Asheville and MTN Merch. This year’s North Carolina Ceramic Arts Festival will be held September 19 at Pack Square Park. For more information, visit NorthCarolinaCeramicArtsFestival.com.