When Jennifer Farr gets stressed, she throws things.
Luckily, she’s a potter, so throwing isn’t cause for concern. It’s just all part of the job — her favorite part, in fact. “If you tried it, you’d know (why),” she says, sitting down behind her wheel.
With a firm slap, the 26-year-old throws a three-pound chunk clay down and begins to work. Her fingers deftly craft the clay into a pie plate, one of the dozen she can make in an hour. She stops long enough to imprint three sets of crimped edges, making her ware stand out even more from the crowd.
Jennifer’s officially been in business — under the name J. Rae Pottery — since 2009. That time has seen her make her way through many festivals, farmers markets, and most recently, to the shelves of local Price Cutter stores. She says that leap is still one she’s getting used to. “It’s like, ‘Oh, wow. That’s really my stuff,’” says Jennifer of seeing pieces in local stores. “It’s taken a while to sink in.”
But Jennifer’s talent is recognized even beyond the Ozarks. In July 2015, she received statewide recognition when she was selected as a “Best of Missouri Hands” member. Organized in conjunction with the Missouri Artisans’ Association, this juried group of artists represents the state’s best work.
Years of practice
While Jennifer can credit her success to a good work ethic and a talented touch, it also goes back to junior high and a desire to do something fun during the summer. “I didn’t want to go to summer school, so I signed up to do two classes at the Springfield Art Musuem,” says Jennifer. “One was pottery and the other painting. (I) didn’t have a knack for painting at all, but (I) did the pottery and liked it.”
That summer turned into an after-school activity when school resumed. She studied with a local potter, and took classes in Springfield. When high school graduation came along in 2007, she was ready for the next level. “I decided I had the talent and didn’t need a piece of paper,” says Jennifer, who opted to skip college in lieu of on-the-job training. “The day after graduation, I went down (to Silver Dollar city) and threw pots.”
Her time at Silver Dollar City taught her several things: There was the production side of the business, which has been vital to her success today. Another lesson, while also valuable, wasn’t quite as much fun to learn. “I was there eight months before I got tendonitis because I was throwing wrong,” recalls Jennifer, who underwent six months of therapy to overcome the issue. “Instead of bracing my elbows behind my body and using that pressure, I was throwing with my elbows way out here with nothing to support them. So it was all on my wrists.”
But with her throw corrected, Jennifer was soon back at it even stronger than ever. She moved into her Marshfield studio in 2009, and has expanded ever since.
What she makes
Jennifer’s wares aren’t limited to a specific type of pottery. Her studio is filled with owl-decorated mugs, the aforementioned pie plates, dinnerware, jack-o-lantern and snowmen candle holders and much more. There are also clay-woven baskets and nesting bowl sets, the latter of which Jennifer says is one of her most expensive items at $75.
Most of those items came about because Jennifer simply decided to try something different. She walks over to a table, lifting up one of her latest creations. “These are something new I’ve been making,” she says of hanging flower planters. Another item she enjoys making are baskets. “They’re made with the extruder, which I bought year before last.”
Indeed, being a potter means having a lot of crucial (read: expensive) equipment. There’s that extruder, a slab roller that makes smooth pieces of clay, the pugmill to create like-sized pieces that become handles for mugs, and the kiln, which serves two distinct steps in the pottery process.
But before items get into the kiln, there’s a whole set of steps that must be complete. “You’ll make it on the wheel,” says Jennifer, who next sets pieces out to dry. “Then I will cover it and let it become leather hard.” After that, items dry for another three days or so before sanding them and putting them in the kiln for the first “bisque” firing, which bakes the pottery at a lukewarm 1800 degrees Farenheit for nine hours.
Then the items are glazed and baked again, this time at more than 2300 degrees for 12 hours. “So it’s a two week process from start to finish, if the weather’s right,” says Jennifer. “‘Cause the humidity takes a large play in everything. It really slows the process down and you have stuff stacked everywhere because they’re not drying fast enough.”
But when those pieces are finally done, the pleasure her customers get from her products is a great reward.
“I like it that people like it,” says Jennifer. “People custom order things and they’re really happy with them. That’s kind of satisfying, I guess.”
Want some pottery?
Jennifer regularly sells her items at the Farmers Market of the Ozarks on Saturdays in Springfield. They are also available at select Lilly’s Floral boutiques inside Price Cutter stores in Springfield. For more information or to place a custom order, contact Jennifer at (417) 838-5217 or connect via Facebook.