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Marion Arts Festival

On Saturday, May 21st I will be participating in the Marion Arts Festival in Marion, IA. I have never done this show before, but have heard lots of good things and I get to stay with my family. The director of the show asked if I would be willing to be interviewed for the Marion Times and said sure! Below is the article I was interviewed for by Nancy Grindle.

Bella Joy Pottery suggests happiness, exuberance in life

Heidi Fahrenbacher is the owner of Bella Joy Pottery in Plainwell, Michigan. She says the theme behind Bella Joy is to use the pottery she creates for your daily rituals – drinking coffee, savoring dessert, etc.  “Life is better when you enjoy the small things.”

She also is inspired by the “juxtaposition between urban and rural life. With the prevalence of the farm-to-table movement, this symbiotic relationship is flourishing.”

Heidi started on her “current path at a young age.” She was always drawing and painting, and when the family went on vacation, it was fun to stop at little shops that had homemade items, especially pottery.

However, she claims that she was absolutely awful when she took her first ceramics class at age 15. Nevertheless, she liked the challenge and continued to struggle.

Heidi says she wanted to be a gerontologist, but her dad sat her down for a heart-to-heart talk before her sophomore year in college and told her to do what she loved instead. She immediately went to the Registrar’s office and changed all of her courses for fall.

She improved by lots of practice and a nasty-sounding apprenticeship during which, if she couldn’t complete a pot in five minutes, she had to destroy it and start over. As she put it, “you get good, or you go home.” Obviously, she got good.

Heidi still has some of her first pieces. “They were small. I didn’t have much strength in my arms for throwing. … I love keeping the ‘bad’ ones to see how far I have come.”

A good friend helped Fahrenbacher when she was starting out as a potter. “His name is Michael Gunderson. He is a potter in Kalamazoo, MI. He never held back any information, was always supportive, and has a great sense of humor. We were both striving for the same thing – to make a living as a ceramic artist – and he never put me down when I was successful.”

Fahrenbacher started Bella Joy in 2006. Her studio is in a converted chicken coop in Michigan between Chicago and Detroit. It takes her quite a while to produce her pieces, but she does what she calls “small batch production”:

“Now that I no longer throw all my forms on the potter’s wheel, the process is complicated. I have to make a prototype out of clay, make a plaster mold of that form, let the mold dry a week, clean the mold up, do a cast with liquid clay that takes about 20 minutes, dump the liquid clay out of the mold, let the mold dry, pop the piece out of the mold, clean up the rim of the cast piece, and put the piece in the kiln for the first firing for eight to ten hours.

“Then when the piece comes out, I have to put wax on the bottom, glaze the piece, put it back in the kiln for six to eight hours, and, depending on orders or stock, I fire the piece for a third time to add a decal.”

“That is just for a single piece; that’s why you make multiples at the same time.”

The part of her work she loves most is the glazing. She said, “It’s like magic. It looks one color before you put it in the kiln, and it comes out another color. I love the unknown and how you never know exactly how it is going to look until it comes out of the kiln.”

Where does Fahrenbacher get her inspiration for her work? In answer, Heidi said, “Inspiration is a state of mind that seems to come when I am just about to fall asleep, when I accidentally wake up at 4 a.m., go for walks alone, or am sitting in the studio alone. There is an element of being alone that allows me to dig deep into the creative vault.”

Heidi doesn’t have any especially significant tools, but she said, “It’s not really a tool, but I always wear an apron. It doesn’t feel like I’m working until I have my apron on. The one I am using currently is tie-dyed and was made for me by some advanced ceramics high school students I taught.  I love it!”

In her spare time, Heidi says she likes to read, garden, play video games, ride her bike, go for long walks, swim, go fishing and laugh.

Yes, with a company named Bella Joy, we would certainly expect that last activity. Visit her booth to feel the happy influence of her works at the Marion festival.

Finger Vase by Heidi Fahrenbacher of Bella Joy Pottery

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