HeartMoss Farm's Hannah Martin at NY NOW
It was Hannah Martin’s first time at NY NOW when she brought her HeartMoss Pottery pieces last month to the winter edition of the home/lifestyle/handmade/gift market trade show at New York’s Javits Center, but her samples stood out nevertheless.
“One of the things that makes them stand out is that I do my own glaze development,” said Martin, a few days after the show.
“That means, my colors and patterns are mine. I do this ‘mad scientist’ thing in taking notes and doing meticulous tests to get them right. Someone who saw my work four years ago saw it again recently, and didn’t recognize me, but recognized my Serenity Blue glaze!”
But HeartMoss Pottery, created in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, is also functional.
“Travel mugs are my best seller,” said Martin. “I’ve had pottery collectors who like my work and see them as art you can take on a hike, or can just sit on your desk without coffee. And I was lucky to find lids from ecotop, a company in Rhode Island that makes tight-fitting tops that let you make any mug into a travel mug with virtually no spilling: The thing I hate most about travel mugs is that with a lot of them, you take a drink on the way to work and it ends up on your shirt!”
Martin came to her artful pottery relatively recently, and by way of an unusual background.
She’d been living in Brooklyn with her wife Emilia Jones, who had learned pottery when she was a teenager—and still hand-builds, sculpts, and helps Martin in the studio.
“I was teaching English literature and speech, film and humanities at a couple two-year colleges in New Jersey, and Emi was stll in college,” Martin recalled. “Her family brought a bit of land here with an apple orchard back in the ‘80s, and she came out once a year while she was growing up. We moved here in 2012 in the dead of winter.”
Settling in Grayson County, the couple originally intended to gain farming experience and perhaps have a sustainable small-scale farm in the future, raising small numbers of livestock (easy-to-care-for sheep,chickens, pigs, cattle, goats, turkeys, guineas, quail and rabbits) in addition to harvesting a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and perennial gardens of other edibles, medicinals, herbs and ornamentals.
After Jones joined (and eventually managed) the Oldtown Pottery co-op in Galax (near the Blue Ridge Mountains and birthplace of country music pioneer Ernest Stoneman), Martin became a member.
“I threw my first bowl and got hooked!” she said. “I took classes there and in Charlotte, and went to a two-week workshop. But I lucked out and won the potter’s lottery: I sat down at the potter’s wheel the first time with Emi and was able to throw a bowl with even walls—which is a big deal as a potter. The more even the wall, the stronger structure of the piece in the short- and long-term.”
Working the potter’s wheel, Martin said, “is like a dance almost: There’s something about the circular rhythm—the revolution has a very specific beat and pattern, and it fits for me. I’m able to throw pieces that are very thin, which makes them more delicate—but they’re still strong. I don’t need as much clay as when I played with it when I was four-years-old!”
It soon became clear that Martin and Jones needed dedicated space to practice and develop their art, so they built a studio in the basement of their house at their HeartMoss Farm. The farm itself is managed by Jones, while Martin helps out with farm work during breaks from the studio.
“Emi’s been in [pottery] longer than me, but it’s not her passion—which is the farm and her sheep. She’ll help make glazes, and since the travel mugs use slip molds, she can make them when I’m gone or super-busy—like she did the entire time I was in New York.”
Prior to pottery and teaching, Martin served in the U.S. Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer, and was on a navy ship going through the Suez Canal on election day, 2004.
“Congress had pulled funding for some ships, and it was scary,” she related. “I felt that it wasn’t worth putting my life on the line for somebody else’s oil, and as a lesbian under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I was scared of being outed. While I loved my job, it wasn’t worth it, and when the Navy said they had too many in my pay grade, I got to leave.”
Martin then moved to Portland, Ore., where she got her master’s degree in theater.
“It’s been interesting setting down roots here—in a different way,” she said. “I have a wheel and two kilns currently in the basement of a farmhouse, and just signed a lease to move some of the operations 15 minutes from us on the main drag, so we can expand and have more of a public appearance. I’ll keep wheel-throwing at the house to keep an eye on the pottery as it’s drying, but will take it to the new place for firing—during which there’s always some noxious gases.”
HeartMoss sells its pottery locally and online, and hooked up with some wholesalers at NY NOW and the American Handcrafted show last year in Philadelphia. “We do retail shows occasionally in Betty—the trailer attached to our Subaru!”
And every summer they have an open studio event including tours and discounted pottery.
“We are lesbians living in rural Appalachia--and we love it!” concluded Martin.
“We got to know our local community and realized that you can’t replicate a community anywhere else. People here are really wonderful and amazing and genuine, so we’ve stayed and started a family here, and it’s a wonderful thing to do--with an amazing support system.”
She added that the couple was thrown a “mindblowing” baby shower for their now 10-month-old son.
“We’re not doing anything really revolutionary, but feel that by being here, we make a difference,” said Martin. One man even decided we weren’t going to hell after all—that our ‘sin’ didn’t matter any more than his, and why would we go to hell if he wasn’t?”
“Those things are their own mini-revolution!”