Throwing Wares in the Upstate
Oak Leaf Pottery is making a name for itself with signature glazes, drips and functional pieces that double as works of art.
Maybe you’re looking for a new mug to enhance your coffee experience in the morning or a new set of bowls to add color to your dinner table. Whatever your earthenware needs, you can find it thanks to Spartanburg’s Oak Leaf Pottery. Specializing in a diverse selection of red iron oxide stoneware coated in earthly glazes, this rustic business is growing quickly. And the duo behind it all is Allison and Daniel Gross.
While attending Towson University as an art education major, Allison found her passion for pottery through ceramics courses. After graduating in 2011, she became an art teacher for a local high school in Montgomery County, Maryland, and began making wares to sell through an Etsy store. After three years of teaching, she found out that her husband, Daniel, had received a new job with a daily newspaper in Spartanburg, South Carolina. With a big move in their future, Allison decided to quit teaching and dedicate more time to pottery.
Her newfound dedication led to the creation of the Oak Leaf name. After relocating to the upstate in 2014, she became a member of the West Main Artists Co-Op, where she rents a studio space. As she began making pottery under the Oak Leaf moniker, her husband took on the role of social media manager, publicist and much more.
“It’s taken tenacity to move to the South, and for Allison to put a teaching career behind her, for the business to really take roots,” he explains. “There are plenty of scary moments when we wonder ‘was this the right decision?’ but then we hear an inspiring compliment from a customer and it seems all of our worries vanish, and we’re reassured we’re on the right track.”
Nowadays, Gross can be found working at the co-op and sells some of her wares through her Etsy store and The Wren’s Nest in Travelers Rest. However, it’s at art markets and festivals that Gross sells her biggest inventory. She says that traveling has helped boost Oak Leaf’s reputation throughout the Upstate. “I got a lot of great feedback, and I’ve had a following because of it. I’ve actually had a lady come to each festival I’ve been at so far, and she’s bought something.”
With feedback like that, Gross is exploring different ways to interact with her customer base. With her husband’s help, she recently opened a fully functioning website that highlights her recent works and keeps followers in the know. From hopes of having her own back yard studio to wholesaling her wares, Gross is definitely looking to grow her business. “I want to get my name out to a lot of other places,” she says. “I would love to be selling to restaurants or coffee bars and having my work out there.”
As Oak Leaf evolves, Gross promises her affinity for earthy tones won’t change. “Everything is inspired by the outdoors and nature, which are both a big part of my life … between hiking, camping, or even traveling,” she says. But customers can expect to see new shapes in the future and different types of products.
One of her latest products is what Gross calls “tree gnomes.” These sculptural pieces feature tall, wheel-thrown frames that spiral upwards. But there’s a catch, or a face to be more exact. Adorning the sides of her spirals are faces that feature anything from mustaches to bulging eyes and ears. These attributes are carved into the sides by Gross after she has thrown the frames on the wheel. And it’s not soon after etching the faces that she puts the pieces in the kiln and then adds glazes.
Even though Gross plans on making more decorative products, she doesn’t expect to lose the best aspect of her pottery: functionality. “It’s kind of fun to think that someone is buying your artwork in order to drink their morning coffee,” she says. It’s her inventory of coffee mugs, bowls and plates that make Oak Leaf Pottery such a good buy.
And with a variety of glazes, Gross’ pottery serves a wide range of purposes. Glazes currently range from “forest foliage” to other names like “coffee brown” or “white crackle.” Her process includes throwing on a wheel and then adding the glazes that are solidified through kiln firing. She also occasionally includes decorations before adding glazes by etching anything from acorns to glaze drips, which can usually be found adorning the sides of her stoneware.
— Andrew Moore (@mooreap2) June 17, 2015
WHAT TO BUY
Handmade Stoneware Pottery Corked Jug
How much? $30
A piece both functional and decorative is the corked jug, which features glazes like “light blue shino” and “white crackle” over a red iron oxide stain. Gross constructed this piece on the wheel and has attached a kiln fired handle for transportation. Across the jug’s circumference are areas of light and dark strokes that make the piece look even more vintage.
Handmade Stoneware Pottery Mug
How much? $18
If you’re looking for something to make your morning better, then Oak Leaf’s coffee mug is for you. While many of the mugs are stained with red iron oxide, it’s the glaze drips and the colors that pop. Alongside that stain, you’ll find that many of the mugs feature darker browns and even burgundy. Those colors really show Gross’ technique of glaze dripping, which she accomplishes by letting the “coffee brown” glaze run before being hardened in the kiln.
Handmade Stoneware Cake Stand
How much? $45
A personal favorite from Oak Leaf’s inventory is a unique platform for desserts. The most interesting aspect to this piece is the blue top that adds some color to the lightly stained body. Standing only 5 inches tall, the cake stand doesn’t take up too much room, but it still holds larger cakes with a 9inch width. When it comes to attachments, Gross has perfected the process in this piece.
Handmade Stoneware Pottery Pitcher
How much? $30
One of Oak Leaf’s most functional pieces is the pitcher. Fill it up with a beverage of your choice and enjoy the hot summer days out on the patio. While much of the pottery featured on Oak Leaf’s Etsy shop is coated with similar colors, this piece really shines with a variety of greens; just take a look at the inside. And with two glaze drips lining the side, it appears as though the pitcher were overflowing with moss.
Photos by Andrew Moore, except product photos courtesy of Oak Leaf Pottery.