Most of us have had those days when we feel stuck in a rut. You know, when you’re sitting at your desk under harsh florescent lights, or walking extra slowly into your office building, or completing the same seemingly unimportant task for the 500th time. For most of us, this feeling creeps in and we start fantasizing about dropping everything and going confidently in the direction of our dreams. While the feeling usually passes, and many weekday warriors just keep fighting that battle against monotony, Donna and Randall Rollins figured that if they had to pour out their time and energy, it was going to be into something they love.
The couple met while they were both working in corporate America. First they fell in love with each other, and then Donna fell in love with pottery. Then they learned about the healing properties often associated with gemstones from a friend with a PhD in metaphysics, and everything came together: Donna and Randall left the corporate world to start their own clay studio. They slowly grew their business to include family members and employ local artisans, they discovered new ways to incorporate stones and minerals into their designs, and, aside from acknowledging that their business backgrounds gave them the know-how to turn their passion into a career, they don’t do a lot of looking back.
“We actively made the decision thinking, ‘If we tank, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll still have each other,'” Randall told me on my recent visit to the couple’s Brentwood, NH studio. “We took that risk and we were willing to lose it all.”
As you’re about to see in the photos and interview below, Donna and Randall didn’t lose it all, and they’re still hard at work making beautiful pottery and sharing their passion for stones and clay whenever they can. In fact, when our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I arrived to the studio over two hours late, thanks to a flat tire, the Rollinses weren’t even fazed. Their team had left for the night, and evidence of a long workday (so many pieces, in all stages of completion!) was all around. Still, they welcomed us like old friends, offered us snacks, and almost immediately started showing us their collections of stones and telling us about the energy in the space.
Where do you find inspiration?
Donna: I usually find inspiration from people. Whether it’s how they talk or how they look. I know it’s weird, but I look at people and I see clay. I get tons of inspiration from my husband, and then from other people.
Randall: [T]he stones. The stone aspect is almost as important as the clay aspect of it. We find them and we can feel the energy coming from them. When people rub the stones, regardless of whether they believe in “energy” or not, it becomes almost like an affirmation.
Donna: If you’re around stones, you’re going to gravitate to YOUR stones. Clay has quartz in it and our glaze has quartz in it. I don’t think we’re just attracted to pottery by its beauty. There’s an energy there. That’s my philosophy.
What are your most essential tools?
D: Clay. After clay, a sponge, water, and the wheel… After that, it’s music. I really just need to sit, and relax, and enjoy listening to music.
Where does downtime fit into your schedule?
D: When we burn out, and it does happen, we’ll go on a trip. We went to Alaska last September… but we hadn’t taken a day off since the middle of March. When we’re busy, Randy and I will work seven days a week and we’ll work between 10 and 16 hours a day, depending on what the demand is. Any time we leave the studio, that’s our creative time. Our brainstorming time. We’re still working, but it’s like we’re nurturing our business, this child.
What advice do you have for the you of 5 years ago?
R: Focus on what you do best. We used to have a paint your own pottery studio. It was good for the community, but it wasn’t where we were strongest.
D: That wasn’t our passion, either. We were just starting out, and we really should have just focused on making and selling our pottery.
How do you set goals for yourselves?
D: I am a goal setter. I think through them first, and then I bounce them off of Randy, because Randy is the practical one. If he says we can’t do it, I use that for motivation.
R: I would say that one of the things I’ve learned is that Donna will make a completely impossible statement and my first reaction is, “There is no way we can do this,” and when we were first together I used to tell her that. But now I just shut up, because she makes these impossible statements, and then she actually makes them happen.
How do you celebrate victories?
R: We feel good for a moment, and then we have to move on.
D: We usually include our staff. When we celebrate we have to include them. It isn’t just about Randy and I, if we didn’t have the team that we have, then we wouldn’t be successful. It’s a team effort.
What quote keeps you motivated?
D: “No matter how bad it gets, it’s not really bad unless you die.”
If you don’t give up, you can achieve anything.
R: My favorite quote is from Donna. It’s, “Let’s go.”
What new skills are you trying to learn to perfect your craft?
D: I’m trying to implement more of the fine art aspect of pottery rather than just production pottery. Implementing new glazing techniques and processes. We’re to the point now where I feel like I can take a little time to myself to really explore the art.
How do you recharge your creativity?
R: We get in the car and we drive. To give you an example, we just got in the car and headed north. We just kept going until we ended up in Canada. We had no plans, but we ended up in Nova Scotia and spent three days there.
D: You have to be creative to do something like that. That recharges our creativity. You can look at a rock and see that it has some cool colors to it. We take ourselves out of the studio and we explore.
How does collaboration come into play in your craft?
R: Everybody has a different area of expertise, and we want to tap into everybody’s area of expertise. It comes in surprising places. Donna and I know every aspect of the business, and can do it if we have to, but at some point the people who work for you are more knowledgeable and skilled than you are, and if you are humble enough to know that, then it’s a level playing field.
D: We’re a part of the team. Yes, we are “[the] boss” but we don’t want [our employees] to look at us like we’re the boss. We’re all playing together on the same team.