Reflections Retrospective: 2008-2010 Moving to Williamsburg and Rebuilding

Posted by Diane Sullivan on

You might remember 2008 as the year of the world financial crisis, for me it was a year of huge transition. Ralph and I split in the spring; our paths had diverged, and we no longer wanted the same things from life. I decided to return to Ontario, where I hadn’t lived for almost 20 years. This was a difficult year for most of North America, for me, despite my personal upheaval there was a huge silver lining. In early December in Calgary I had a huge blow out sale of all of my work, seconds and firsts. I was moving to Ontario the week before Christmas and, as they say, everything had to go. This was the first event of this type I had ever held. I had had seconds sales before but they had been small closed parties for friends and friends of friends held on a Saturday night and doubling as a Christmas party for Ralph and I, we would order in oysters and good wine and make it a fun evening. This closeout event was directed at my very loyal clientele, built at my craft fairs over the previous 12 years. I was unprepared for what happened that night, but I carry it in my heart still. People came in droves, they lined up around the block, they cleaned out every shelf, but most memorably they hugged, they laughed, they cried, they let me know how important a role my work had played in their lives. I cry now as I write this. It was a beautiful gift.

So on January 6 of 2009 I took possession of my building in Williamsburg, Ontario. It was my dream building; 1300 sq’ studio with gallery front on the main and a 900 sq’ apartment upstairs. I had driven across the prairies with my faithful canine companion Molly, dodging snow storms in -30C temperatures, arriving in time for Boxing Day sales, which worked as I had to furnish my apartment. I had hired movers to move my studio, moulds, hardwall booth and personal art collection.

After living in Alberta for 14 years, I felt I had moved to the epicenter of the universe: 1 hour to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, 1.5 hours to Place Bonaventure in Montreal, 3.5 hours to Exhibition Place in Toronto, 7 hours to Cape Cod… get the idea. I had also moved “home”. I had done most of my early education, including my first degree, in Ottawa. 4 of my siblings lived there still, and within a month of my arriving, my 82 year old mother also moved back from her retirement out west. It was a happy time personally for me.

"Letting Go", 2009, perhaps an autobiographical piece?

On the business side we were in a recession and I was the new kid on the block. I had naively thought the extensive wholesale I had done while living in Alberta (I was selling my work in galleries and shops from Ucluelet to Halifax) would carry me through as introduction at the new show schedule I built. But the shows were dead in the water in Ontario and the galleries were flat lining also. Basically I had to start my business over again. Two things emerged to pave the way: Farmers’ Markets and Transferware. I started selling at local farmers’ markets and was pleasantly surprised. I was reaching an audience I had never seen before at the art shows. I loved the low overhead, the quick turnaround and the immediate feedback on my new line of transfer decorated pottery. Yep, the transfers that I had been using on the sculptures jumped on the pots. Because I had never sold the new line through galleries, I could price it at a lower price point than my carved celadon line(never undercut your gallery). I have, to this day, been the only source for my transferware.

The Small Stuff. A large part of surviving the recession of 2009 and rebuilding my business was the attention I gave to developing the small items in my repertoire. Out west I had relied on a series of trivets (which are also wall tiles) and small bowls and oval dishes for my low price point items. By 2010 I knew I had to do something else to thrive.

Back in Calgary around 2005 I had developed a line of garden signs that I only made one week of the year to sell at a spring garden show. Now in Ontario I started bringing them to shows and to my farmers' markets all year. I also started making mugs. I had only made perhaps 100 mugs prior to the recession. Because of my hand carving decoration technique mugs seemed a huge pain and one I had never had to resort to. With the transfer ware now developing in my studio I tried some mugs. By 2015 I was making 300 mugs a year. Necessity is the mother of creation too!

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