The potter's wheel
By Michelle Newman
“It was like starting with a blank sheet,” says Elaine Fallon, the potter who took the brave step of setting up her own business, now known as Brookwood Pottery, during a time when the permanence of financial security was fleeting.
“I had been working in an art gallery for a long time, it got badly hit and a lot of us were made redundant. I was pregnant with my third child and I didn’t really know what to do,” she says.
“I had two ideas; I could either go back to college and do a master’s in business or the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, which is where I always wanted to go, and do a night-time course in ceramics.”
Elaine choose the latter and studied an ‘advanced sculpture course’. From there, she began teaching in her local Vocational Educational Committees at night which led Elaine back to her creative roots.
She began making pottery in a converted shed at the end of her garden and says that Brookwood Pottery had humble beginnings.
“I worked there for five years, it started very, very small.”
Elaine is happy that the popularity of her work grew ‘organically’ with people calling to her house to see and buy her designs whilst also being stocked in Cows Lane Designer Studio and Kilkenny Design. It was a bit of a ‘rollercoaster’ for Elaine and her family as she juggled her home life with production, but also an exciting time for the budding entrepreneur.
“My husband is creative as well, he’s a photographer and was very supportive of me doing what I wanted to do, so we worked it out between us. It did get to a stage when I couldn’t make all the pots myself so I took on an apprentice, Marz Lawlor,” Elaine says, adding that she and Marz still work together.
Then Elaine needed more help in the form of Karen Cody, a potter from Kilkenny.
“She did the Thomastown pottery skills course, the same one that I did. There was 20 years between us but it only feels like yesterday.”
With the workload increasing and more people in her studio, Elaine knew it was time to find a bigger space but was at a ‘crossroads’ as to how she would go about this, because retaining the authenticity and ‘sense of studio’ her pottery had was very important.
“I also never wanted to open a factory, but then I had to try and figure out financially how I could do that” she says.
“Last January I was interviewed by The Potter’s Cast, an American podcast who interview potters from all over the world and I found this interview [they did] with a girl called Tallie Maughan.”
Elaine goes on to explain that when Tallie returned to London after living in America, she found that, for the most part, pottery making and classes were few and far between.
“She crowd funded and opened up a pottery called Turning Arts which is hugely popular and her story stuck with me. I was trying to think of ways forward for my pottery and I realised what we were missing were people; a lot of people would ask if we did classes, but the shed was so small that we couldn’t,” says Elaine.
Fortunately, one of her customers who worked in print media published a piece on Elaine, who in turn prepared a crowdfunding campaign to coincide with this. Her target was to raise €15,000 over 43 days and use the money to open a space that potters could enjoy, but the final amount came to over €16,700.
“It was an absolutely huge learning curve, personally and creatively and from a business point of view as well. I discovered how kind and supportive people can be and I thought, ‘Okay this is the way forward I’m going to take it,’” she says.
A week before her studio was due to open the space Elaine had secured fell through. She told her friend Angela her dilemma, who in turn suggested her brother Val Rutledge, might be able to help.
“That turned into the most amazing partnership. Val’s idea was to take run-down buildings or buildings that other people would see no potential in and to turn them into something creative. He’s taken this run of the mill, bland unit in an industrial estate in Santy and we’re turning it into something lovely,” says Elaine.
Along with being home to Brookwood Pottery, Santry Central houses a number of fledging, young businesses, a crèche which will open in the spring and they’re on the lookout for a café operator for the ground floor.
“There’s a shop at the front of the studio where we sell our own pottery, we do birthday patties for children, small pottery classes and courses,” Elaine says.
“Now the balance is to continue with my own work and then teach alongside that because I think one will sustain the other. There’s a harmony between them.”
For more information on Brookwood Pottery visit www.brookwoodpottery.com
Photograph credit: Christine Burns