Any day you get to admire beautiful things has to be a good day. Sunday, I made a special trip and spent an hour looking at and talking about beautiful art pottery, and walked away knowing all is right with the world. Both the looking and the talking were a decidedly pleasant way to spend an hour!
I was in Lake Mills, WI tracking down Ephraim (pronounced “eh-from”) Pottery. Perhaps the first thing I need to tell you is that the Ephraim of Ephraim Pottery is not the same Ephraim (pronounced “ee-from”) as the city in Door County, WI. Since Door County is also known for art it is a logical mistake to make, but you don’t want to drive up to Ephraim, WI looking for Ephraim Pottery – because you will not only go several hours out of your way, but you’ll either miss the pottery all together or have to make a separate trip.
Making a separate trip is very much worth your while. You sort of have to make a special trip to get to Lake Mills anyway – I am not sure what else would take you there. I intend to go back and find out if there are good places to eat (so if you know, please let me know), because I really think that the town deserves at least half a day, with Ephraim Pottery as the reason for going. There were several antique and other interesting stores that would be worth a look. Do plan to spend at least an hour at the pottery and go on a week day!
I urge you to make the trip on a week day because the pottery itself (as in “the factory”) is located in Lake Mills and during the week you can stop in and see the potters at work. I didn’t get to do that since this first trip was on a Sunday – one reason to go again! As well as seeing the potters at work, a visit to the factory will also give you the opportunity to see some of the history of the work produced by this pottery. I peeked through the door and could see the exhibits which hold retired designs and information about the glazes and methods.The factory is in the same building as the store: The store occupies a portion of the first floor, and the pottery occupies all of the (under)ground floor. From the photo you can see that the first floor is a few feet above street level, and since the ground floor is not exactly all underground, I am not calling it a basement. The building is a block off the town square (actually a town triangle) on Lake Street – very easy to find even if you’re too shy to stop and ask someone. Just drive to the town “square” and find Lake Street (one of its sides). Look up and down the street and you’ll see the building.
I walked in and met Barbara Voss. Barbara is wonderful! She has a passion for her product that is infectious. It is easy to see why. Even if you are not an aficionado of the Arts and Crafts style, you will be captivated by the beautiful pottery made by Ephraim. I certainly was. Most, if not all of what I am going to tell you about Ephraim Pottery, Barbara told me, and I am sure you will see why I thank her for the time she spent talking to me. It is a good story!
The Pottery is not that old – despite that the style they work in dates from the early 1900s. It was founded in 1995. There are 12 artisans working at the pottery. Each design is a limited edition (remember I mentioned retired designs?). Five hundred pieces of any design is the upper limit. You’ll find nature motifs, and geometric motifs that bring Frank Lloyd Wright to mind (fittingly, since Taliesen East is just about 2 hours way from Lake Mills). The work abounds in natural colors, earthy tones and greens, but you’ll also find the colors of flowers and berries. You’ll find mammals, insects, flowers, leaves and birds. There are pots both large and small, squat and tall. Choosing something to buy is really hard – you are going to like just about everything! (Another reason to go back!)
Ephraim Pottery has a collectors association, too, which makes it pretty obvious that you have a lot of company if you can’t walk away with just one pot (on each visit!). I ended up buying two.
The two I finally settled on were a “love at first sight, can’t get it out of my mind” pot and of course, (you know me) a pot on sale! All of the pots made by Ephraim have maker’s marks on the bottom. One of those marks is a symbol that told me that both the pots I purchased were “experimental” pots – the first tries of a new design. (One of the pots I bought is featured in the cover photo of Ephraim’s Facebook page. Go see the page and you’ll see my comment identifying the pot I purchased. If you don’t love it, you’re just jealous!). The marks also include the Ephraim logo and the artist’s signature. (Both my pots were made by the same artist – consistent taste, I guess.)
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking “I am never going to make it to Lake whatever, WI, so how do I get to see these beautiful arts and crafts style pots and figure out whether I agree or disagree with this Jetsy person?” Glad you asked! Yes, there is a website! Yes, you can see and order from the website. Just please remember that these are hand-made items. Each will be unique. Even pots of the same design, because they are made by hand, and not in a mold, will have natural variations that make them special. Think “art gallery” not “poster store.”
Now, if you live in California, or travel there more often than to central southern WI, you’re in luck because Ephraim Pottery is opening a satellite store in Cambria, CA this summer. If you’re following Ephraim on Facebook or through their website, you will get the notice when the store opens. Even without seeing it, I encourage you to go visit the store, just as I exhort you to make the trip to Lake Mills to see the store and meet Barbara Voss.
Barbara is an experienced retail professional, having run the museum stores for the Art Institute in Chicago, the Chicago Botanical Garden and the Terra Museum. Be sure to ask for her when you go (and please tell her that you heard all about Ephraim Pottery from your friendly Puerto Rico to Wisconsin shuttling blogger). Talking with her will enrich your experience at Ephraim in at least two ways: You’ll learn a lot about the pots and the company, but you will also feel you’ve made a new friend.
What more could you ask for from a “good day”?
Ephraim Faience Pottery http://www.ephraimpottery.com
203 W. Lake St. https://www.facebook.com/ephraimpottery
Lake Mills, WI 53551
PS On Facebook look for Ephraim Faience Pottery Studio and Gallery. Just Ephraim Pottery will get you one of those stupid Wikipedia pages not the page the pottery maintains.