Locally Made: Kim Henderson, Potter
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Locally Made: Kim Henderson, Potter

How Kim Henderson shaped a career from the wheel up.

Potter Kim Henderson shapes a clay planter on the wheel in her studio.

“Here’s a wonderful tool: an old credit card!” says Kim Henderson. Sure enough, she picks up a clay-covered TD Visa card and uses it to sculpt the edges of the planter that she is shaping on her pottery wheel. “Why purchase something when you can make use of something that you already have?”

This emphasis on functionality is evident in the pieces that Henderson makes and sells through her company, Clay Cauldron. “I like the things I make to have a use, or to solve a problem,” she says of her work, which ranges from table settings to containers that help garlic stay fresh longer. On her backyard deck are several patio planters, which she designed to fit around a patio-table umbrella pole. “Now you can have your flowers perfectly centered on the table!” she says. “It’s beautiful because it works.”

Henderson’s handiness at the wheel—she can finish a piece in mere minutes—has partly to do with over two decades of practice. “It never occurred to me that being an artist was a career option,” she says. She spent 12 years as a community support worker while experimenting with pottery as a hobby. It wasn’t until 2000 that she was ready to leave her job and become a full-time potter. “I threw a cylinder for years, working on learning how to throw,” she says. “When I finally had a product I was proud of, I was 38. I knew that if I didn’t make a change then, I never would.”

Henderson already had her own studio complete with a small kiln and wheel, but still found that the switch from full-time employee to small-business artisan required some adjustment “Not having a regular paycheck was hard to get used to,” she says. Also, there was some initial trouble navigating what she calls the “kiln dragon.”

The process of creating a piece of pottery is lengthy: Henderson first weighs the clay for continuity, kneads it to remove air bubbles and create consistency, puts it on the wheel and “throws” the piece, waits for it to achieve leather-hard firmness, trims the bottom and adds any additional pieces (such as handles for mugs), and then bisque fires it at 1,888 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 hours. And after all that, she has to deal with the temperamental nature of the kiln. “It still happens today—I can fill the kiln and open it and not have the pieces work,” she says. “One of the reasons I realized that I was right for this career was that when that happened, I would be so discouraged and sad that night, but by the next morning I would be enthusiastic and start right back at it.”

One of the first things Henderson did after starting Clay Cauldron was to set up a website and hire a web designer. She also began showing at art shows, and eventually formed relationships with retailers. Her pieces are now sold at over 20 shops in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. “I love going out and doing shows, because I get to interact directly with the customer,” she says. “Also, I get to see all these people [in the artisan community] that I connect with. I have quite a few artist friends that do this for a living.” Henderson says she usually does around eight shows a year, but, because of her many responsibilities at the company, has had to focus on local events like the One of A Kind Show. “When you’re the only one, you do all the marketing, communicating, and packaging—it’s a lot,” she says. “When I first got into this, I don’t think I was fully aware of the magnitude of both making your own product and running your own business.”

There are also other, less apparent duties that Henderson has to tend to, such as as having her pieces tested for food safety. While she doesn’t use lead, barium, or cadmium, Henderson still needs to send her wares to the United States to have the glazes, which she creates herself, tested in a lab. Only when they return can she guarantee that the pieces are safe and ready to use in the oven, microwave, and dishwasher.

After 12 years of working as a full-time potter, though, Henderson is still appreciative of the perks of her work. “I love that I get to try new things,” she says. In the past year, she has begun creating glass fusion pieces in her kiln. “I can use the equipment that I already have, and work in a different medium.”

“In my previous work, success was very gradual,” she notes. “Sometimes you wouldn’t see it for years.”

“With this, I make something, set it, and it’s there. It’s almost immediate.”

Thanks to Moosehead for making this series possible.