PAMELA NOWELL, owner and instructor at Mudworks Pottery, knows exactly what her students and customers want to make, buy or be given: their favorite mug. “I love to make mugs, and not a single one is the same,” she said. “I don’t make a ‘Pam’ mug, I don’t make a ‘Mudworks’ mug. I make your favorite mug.”
Nowell has been shaping clay since her children were small and her landlady invited her to a pottery class. Nowell accepted the invitation to “get out of the house,” and found a lifelong passion. She now creates mugs and other treasures from her dream studio in Temple.
Nowell grew up in a small Maine town where “there was no art.” She was her landlady’s first student and she recalled, “The moment I touched clay, I knew. I went home and told my husband, ‘I know what I want to do with my life.’”
The family eventually moved to Nashua, and Nowell studied and then taught at the Nashua Center for the Arts. “I taught, began to sell my work, got better and better,” she said. A move to Wilton resulted in a home with a separate barn studio, where she worked until she moved to her retirement home and current studio.
“I’m still working, still learning,” she reported. “I’ve taken a thousand workshops.”
Nowell is the first to admit she didn’t take a “traditional” path to art, such as obtaining a fine arts degree from a college. But her path works, she added. “I mentor a number of artists coming out of college and they tell me they have to go to New York, find a gallery and get representation. My last apprentice told me, ‘I don’t want to go to New York,’ and I said, ‘Good. Make your own way.’”
It’s an adage she applies to other situations, noting, “People don’t realize they have something to give to the world. It may be pottery, it may not be.”
Nowell is also an interfaith minister and said for her, working in clay is a spiritual process. “It requires tenacity, doing something over and over, being present, using your hands. It’s fire, water, earth and air.”
It’s also an exercise in releasing control, she added.
And she passes these principles on to her students. “I love to teach,” she said. “it’s my passion, one I’ve followed from one point to the next point. It’s wonderful to find a way to access the inner workings of a student. The money is secondary.”
She’s taught in schools, homeschool situations, alternative schools, as an Artist-In-Residence and in grieving programs for teens. She’s used her skills with seminarians and taught out of her home.
Nowell also sells her creations from a small gallery in her home. With COVID-19 she’s had to make some adjustments. She’s not worried about spreading the disease herself, noting with a laugh, “As a potter I don’t go anywhere.” But she’s mindful of her customers. While she figures out how to process in-person shopping, her work is shown on her website and available by order.
She’s also still teaching, with a maximum of three potters practicing their craft under COVID guidelines. But that actually works for Nowell, she added: “I enjoy the smaller classes.”
She has a variety of kilns, gas, raku and electric, and does most of her firing in the electric kiln, but is learning to use a wood kiln. The wood kiln is exacting, she noted. “A normal kiln fires 10 to 12 hours. A wood-fired kiln goes for 24 to 30 hours. The loading takes days, the preparation for the wood takes weeks.” But it’s worth it, she added. “When the piece comes out, it’s a reflection of the fire and how it ‘moves’ on the work.” She’s always learning, she said, noting, “So far I haven’t burned anything down.”
While Nowell doesn’t do “Christmas” items such as the red truck or Santa mugs, she does have a selection of ornaments. And her work is suitable for giving at the holidays or year-round. She will customize a piece. “You say your aunt loves blue? Come and look at my glazes.” She does bowls, platters and teapots along with salt-and-pepper sets that “make me giggle.” And oh those mugs ...
“People love their mugs,” Nowell said. “They always grab the same one. As potters, it’s the most intimate piece we make.”
She added, “I don’t worry about selling the mugs. They’re going to go to who they go to.” And she knows she’s got a recipient when the buyer makes an “ohhh” sound.