Profile: Part of a family ceramics business, a West Point man finds a niche in pottery
Travis Shope’s first spin on a potter’s wheel didn’t go so well.
“I don’t even know you could call it anything,” Shope said of the final product. “It was just a small piece of clay with a hole in the center.”
Eventually, Shope made a set of plates. They were lumpy and didn’t stack neatly, but it was a start.
“I remember eating it and thinking, ‘I might be onto something here,'” he said. “‘I could actually sell these things.'”
That was 2012, and in the nine years since, Shope has proven himself right. Part of the third generation of a decades-old family business, the West Point resident has devoted himself to pottery full-time, selling bowls, plates and more at Commodore Bob’s Yacht Club in Starkville as well as ‘in line.
“My business is built around plates and I try to make the best quality dinnerware possible and just try to bring that into as many homes as possible,” Shope said.
Shope has her own space inside Mar-Lyn Ceramic Supply, Inc. on Main Street in West Point, owned and operated by her parents, David and Lynne Shope. The store sells kilns, pottery wheels, clay, slip – liquid clay for pouring into molds – and more.
Mar-Lyn is named after Lynne and her mother Martha, Travis’ grandmother, who bought the old Coca-Cola bottling plant in 1976 after the store they opened from their back porch in 1971 required more space. The family has owned it ever since.
“It’s a very old building,” Shope said. “You could tell he’s been around a long time, so it’s cool to still be around.”
The store receives visitors from across the country, a small town attraction that Shope is happy to be a part of.
“There are definitely people from all over coming there,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy to hear – just at West Point, it’s weird that they come there.”
Shope’s grandmother was joined by her husband Emmett after he retired from the USDA, and in 1998 the couple retired from ceramics. David retired from a career as an accountant and started helping Lynne run the shop.
Shope, who grew up with little interest in ceramic making, attended Mississippi State University and studied finance. But when he gave up and started working part-time in his parents’ workshop, he was ready to try the steering wheel.
“One day I was like, ‘You know, I should probably try this,'” he said. “If nothing else, just to give me an idea of what I’m talking about every time I load clay in people’s cars.”
Shope said he was interested early on in making plates and tableware, which took time and care.
“I wanted to create functional objects that you could use, not just something to sit on the shelf,” he said.
Early on, the Shopes used the plates made by Travis, but they weren’t perfect.
“Slowly, over time, it got a little sharper,” he said.
Now his work is virtually flawless. The finished pieces on Shope’s Instagram account – bowls, plates, mugs and more – barely reveal that he wasn’t an experienced potter from the start. On the “Shope Pottery” Etsy store he runs, there’s even more – utensil holders, ashtrays and spoon rests, all with a smooth enamel finish.
It’s impressive. But Shope insists he just has to learn.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it yet,” he said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.