Mark Goertzen straddles his pottery wheel, hair pulled back, eyes peering through spectacles at a one-of-a-kind piece.
He’s working on a set of bowls, a relatively simple design that belies the technical expertise Goertzen practices at the wheel. He applies precisely the correct pressure, rotates the wheel at the ideal speed, sees the artwork in his mind come to life in front of him one revolution at a time.
Goertzen is just one of a number of working potters in and around Goshen, a town he calls a bit of a hub for the art form. As winter turns to spring and wedding season approaches, the work of those potters can take on a special meaning.
“We have some customers who ignore people’s wedding registries altogether,” said Goertzen, who operates his studio in the back of his Goertzen Pottery retail store at 1100 Chicago Ave., Ste. 12. “They want to get [the bride and groom] something of a showpiece.”
Retooling the registry
The wedding registry market is dominated by big box stores — Kohl’s; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Crate & Barrel. But according to online wedding authority The Knot, an increasing number of brides and grooms are offering a boutique choice so their guests can stand out when they place their gift alongside others.
“Sure, the big-box stores… have most everything you’ll ever need,” said Kelley Rowland, one of the website’s online editors. “But if there’s a local boutique you absolutely love, it’s worth reaching out.”
According to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Electronic Marketing and Retailing, wedding gift buyers tend to stay away from average-priced items. Instead, they purchase either inexpensive gifts or keepsakes that really mean something — gifts the newlyweds will remember for a long time.
For those that want to show the bride and groom just how much they care, buying a gift from an artisanal company is an ideal solution, and hand thrown pottery in particular will be something they’ll cherish, Goertzen said.
“Rather than getting something everyone can get, we offer unique pieces,” he said.
As if to prove his point, when Goertzen sits down to continue work on the set of bowls he’s been turning, he puts a unique swirl pattern in the base. Each of the completed pieces next to him has a similar, but one of a kind, handmade pattern.
“We make almost everything custom to the customer’s liking,” he said. “I offer the size and shape people want that you can’t get at a big box store.”
Goertzen said he does stock his retail space with pieces buyers expect to see — mugs, bowls, plates, pitchers — but pottery is a living art form, and in part because of the glaze-firing process, no two batches are exactly the same. “Everything is always evolving,” he said.
The 2013 study that examined wedding registries, “How do external reference prices influence online gift giving?,” went on to say registries are dominated by “dining and bar” and “kitchen” items as opposed to other categories such as “hardware” and “furniture.”
Potters like Goertzen produce a number of houseware items, but none in greater numbers than serving pieces for food and drink.
“The food looks wonderful in them, plus you get a bit of the spirit of the maker,” Goertzen said. “I have had plenty of people that if they break the coffee mug they bought here, they come back and get another one because they believe the coffee tastes better out of the handmade mug.”
Goertzen Pottery stocks nearly 100 items; other than vases, candleholders, bathroom items and the like, most are serving ware. The store offers cups of all types (tumblers, pint glasses, mugs and steins), salad bowls, pasta bowls and square bowls, bake ware from casserole dishes to pie plates, and a litany of unique kitchen items you’ll find only in specialty stores — butter keepers, olive oil dispensers, soup tureens, the list goes on.
“Everything is handmade by the potter,” Goertzen said. “When you have the fingertips of a maker involved, it adds up to a cherished piece.”