Made There: Cactus & Clay Ceramics balance form and function

She focuses on functional ceramic pieces with intentionality at the forefront of her designs. From mugs to bowls and vases to ring holders, Beth’s collections are about how people move through their day. As she creates new designs, she imagines the rituals and routines where her work could be useful.

The path to this moment was anything but simple. Like many people, Beth’s first foray into clay and pottery was during high school art class. She said she fell in love with the medium immediately.

“It was like a gravitational pull,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t being true to who I was when I didn’t have my hands in the clay.”

But taking up pottery as a hobby comes at a high price. Self-service studio subscriptions can be expensive, as can building a home studio complete with equipment and materials. All of these considerations caused Beth to put aside her love of pottery when she went off to college.

It took 10 years before Beth could immerse herself in her artistic passion. During her hiatus from ceramics, she pursued a career as a respiratory therapist, which meant long days treating patients, some of whom faced insurmountable problems. With her heart and mind desperate for an escape, Beth and her husband slowly gathered tools and materials for a home pottery workshop.

Made there celebrates small business owners creating local craft, food and beverage products in the Pacific Northwest.

The large piece of wet clay is now a vessel in its own right. As her potter’s wheel spins, Beth shapes the inside walls of the cylinder with one hand while the other smooths the outside with a flat-edged tool. His eyes scan the room up and down, assessing its width and structure as his rock-solid hands refine the form. The wheel slows, its drowsy vibration breaking into a dull thud like an old merry-go-round straining under the weight of its final rotations.

Getting her art back was a balm for the stressors of the life-and-death situations Beth faced on the job. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that. Beyond the real dangers of working in a hospital, Beth also faced challenges at home, including finding daycare for her child and coping with another pregnancy. She had to make a choice.

Beth’s voice stiffens as she talks about stepping away from medicine that year. Although plagued with guilt for leaving in times of need, she knows it was the right thing to do.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said. “My body was falling apart.”

Beth sighs heavily, as if relieved. She lifts the bat, the work surface of the wheel, of the machine, her new creation securely fixed in its center, and walks it to the shelves against the wall of her shop, where it will dry for several days. She examines some of the other pieces on the shelf and chooses to work on a mug with a handle. She places the newly selected bat on a work table and grabs a wire tool with handles on each side. She puts the wire in place and humbly suggests that it might not work, an act of protection that depreciates.

“You have to be very careful at every step or your whole piece is ruined,” she explains. “You can’t get attached because there are so many points in this process where anything can go wrong.”

Beth checks the location of the thread and quickly separates the mug from the bat. She cuts the piece by adding a dandelion-shaped design. Calm concentration returns to his face. When she’s finished, she flips the piece upside down and adds her maker’s mark, before putting it back on the shelf for another drying cycle. She will end up baking the pieces and then sanding, cleaning and glazing them before placing them in the oven. It’s a six-week process to create the pieces for her collection, and that’s before she photographs them, adds them to her online store, markets them, and ships them.

For Beth, pottery started out as a passion, which turned into a type of therapy, and then into a small business. She hopes to inspire people to move away from throwaway culture and keep possessions that will be nurtured and passed on. She pursues sustainable practices in her sourcing and shipping, and true to her caring nature, she regularly donates at least 10% of her profits to non-profit organizations dedicated to helping those in need. The latest round of donations has been sent to support housing for Ukrainian refugees.

Beth has come a long way since discovering her love of pottery. As her collections grow and evolve, she wants to maintain the intent and purpose behind each piece without losing sight of the joy they should bring. One of her favorite ways to use and enjoy her handmade mugs is to brew a fresh cup of tea.

Make chamomile tea

Chamomile tea can be made with fresh or dried flowers. Use about 2 tablespoons of dried chamomile (or 4 tablespoons of fresh chamomile) per 12 ounces of water. If you’re growing your own chamomile like Beth, harvest the entire flower head, including the petals and yellow center, and leave the stem and leaves behind. To dry chamomile, you can hang them in a bouquet, use a mesh bag, or lay the flower heads on a baking sheet.

Step 1: Boil water. Beth prefers filtered water for optimal flavor.

Step 2: Add the flowers to a tea infuser, such as the strainer from inside a teapot, a refillable tea bag, or a metal clip teaspoon; and place the infuser in your favorite cup.

Step 3: Pour hot water over the flowers and steep for 5-7 minutes.

Step 4: Enjoy your fresh tea.

Chamomile tea goes well with honey or peppermint and is great for relaxing, easing anxiety and calming an upset stomach.

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