A Potter’s Tale
Written by Chelsea Moore
If you have never noticed the similarities between a lump of clay and a person, you probably haven’t met Talia Tigges, the owner of White Hearth Pottery. If you had, she would tell you that a piece of clay mirrors the human story, and perhaps more importantly, reflects her own life.
As a small child, Tigges was fascinated by pottery and would often visit her neighbor who was a potter. She would watch him work, mesmerized by the concept of “a lump of nothing” becoming something beautiful and useful.
“It was magical to watch,” she said. “I never would have anticipated I would become a potter when I grew up.”
As her interest in pottery grew, she would ask every potter she met the same question: Do you feel like you’ve arrived as a potter? The answer was always the same: No, there is still so much to learn.
“For that reason, it captivated me,” she said. “I loved the idea of something you could spend your entire life devoting your energy and resources to. I was someone who always went from hobby to hobby and never landed on something. With pottery, every time I learned more about it, I wasn’t satisfied with it. I wanted to know more.”
At 16 years old, she dove in fully. And in 2018, she launched White Hearth Pottery. When she first started her business, she said yes to every job that came her way: custom orders and large wholesale orders. But recently, she has pulled back from her prior business model, focusing instead on limited releases. Before each release, her followers receive a launch date through her newsletter and social media. Once everything has sold out, she begins restocking and prepping for the next release.
With pottery, it takes multiple weeks to complete an item. Starting first with the creative process, Tigges then moves to wheel throwing, the assembly, the first fire, the second fire, and lastly, polishing.
“There’s so much that goes into each individual piece,” she said. Every piece is carefully crafted with an eye for both style and utility.
While she has made everything from teapots to Christmas ornaments, Tigges stays inspired by the constant transformation of clay.
“Every day, there is new transformation,” she said. “It’s something I want for myself. I’m always asking myself: ‘How can I grow? How can I change?’ Being able to work in a field where there is transformation is the most rewarding thing. I think it’s especially rewarding because I’ve experienced the opposite with so much going wrong.”
Her journey with pottery has taught her about the similarities between people and clay. She has realized that clay has shaped the way she processes life events, the way she plans her life, and even the way she responds to disappointing experiences.
“There is so much of a journey through a piece of pottery,” she said. “There might be hours and days of work — so much money poured in — and I’ll find broken pieces in the kiln. So many things in life feel like that. You might pour yourself into a relationship, but it might not work, and you might not talk to [that person] again. Those broken pieces feel like waste, but it’s teaching you along the way. It’s a reminder that even the things I can’t see are being used for another reason.”
Pursuing a career in pottery hasn’t been easy for her, but through all the setbacks and broken pieces of pottery, she’s never changed course.
“It would be so easy to give up,” she said. “[But] I didn’t want to go through life dabbling in things. I wanted to learn how to do something and learn how to do it well.”
Just as pottery has shaped her life, there’s a quote from author David McCullough that has shaped her journey. In “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris” McCullough wrote, “Conceive an idea and then stick to it, because those who hang on are the only ones who accomplish anything.”
As White Hearth continues to flourish, Tigges is adamant that it will never become a factory. She has watched other potters move to producing through factories and believes much is lost in the process. Her long-term goal is to help other potters develop miniature White Hearth studios across the country and is working on developing replicable systems. With other small studios producing items made by hand, she plans to preserve the high-quality, small-batch pottery White Hearth is known for.
“I’m not looking to create a factory,” she said. “I’m looking to just make pottery.”
In the meantime, she is working on an online course that will launch early next year. Her course will serve as a comprehensive guide to starting a career in pottery, centering around questions that beginner potters may have. It will answer the questions she receives most frequently, such as: “What equipment would you start with?” “What made you turn this into a business?” and “What’s one thing you wished you hadn’t done?”
For those who enjoy hands-on experiences, she offers workshops for up to two people. Her classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $125. During the workshop, guests learn to prep clay and practice wheeling throwing, handle attaching, and glazing. Her students go home with a mug from White Hearth.
With a little patience and a lot of stubbornness, Tigges has grown her business into an icon in the pottery world, both on Instagram and in local circles. And what started as a childhood curiosity has taught her how to lose control and then rise up again after loss.
Drinking from one of her beautiful mugs may not indicate all of the lessons — and the journey — that has led to the mug in your hands, but understanding the story behind White Hearth certainly gives a deeper appreciation for pottery and for Tigges, the brave woman behind it all. ML
To purchase pottery from White Hearth, visit whitehearth.com. Shop her 12 Days of Christmas collection, which will unlock a new item for 12 days. She will bring back last year’s popular reindeer ornament and also offer a new ornament for 2021. Follow her on Instagram @whitehearthpottery for updates and releases. She ships domestically and offers local pickup at her studio in Hamilton, Va.
This article first appeared in the December 2021 Issue.