Meet Carla McHattie, the Potter Behind Almond Ave
Starting from the age of 14, Carla pursued her passion in pottery as she worked and learned from her neighbor, Peter Leach, who later became her mentor. Over time Carla has encountered many teachers that have inspired her as she worked hard to keep ceramics a part of her life. Almond Ave is a nod to where it all began, the street Carla grew up on and to who she's become.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in St. Paul Minnesota. I now live and work in Portland, Oregon. I have a lovely husband and an evil cat.
2. How did you start your career in creating pottery pieces?
I started learning pottery at 14 and spent three summers working with my neighbor Peter Leach as an apprentice. He is my mentor and his pottery that I use daily is a continuation of his lesson plan.
3. What/who inspires your work and why?
I have had many teachers that have inspired me. Peter Leach first and foremost, Victoria Christen, Stephen Mickey, Don Sprague, Jan Edwards and Barbara Bartholomew to name a treasured few. It is important with ceramics to know that the process of making is passed down through teachers to students. What I am creating is my own in that it springs from my fingertips, and I make visual decisions reflecting what I feel is correct with my own eyes. These choices and movements come from lessons passed down.
I am deeply inspired by the work of Warren Makenzie, who was Peter Leach’s teacher. The work and words of Shoji Hamada, a teacher of Warren MaKenzie, also inspire my work. Their “Mingei” approach to making was central to how I learned to make pots, and to how I want my work to feel. I plan to teach someday as well.
4. What is a typical day like for you?
I like a slow morning with my tea and the cat and a hearty breakfast. Some days I work through lunch, so this first meal is very important. This is also the time I exercise and poke around the garden a bit in warm months. I head to the studio with a plan in my head. I am usually doing about 4 things at once. Throwing, trimming, clay recycling, slip work, handles, finishing, are all usually happening at once. Pottery is moisture management, and the timing changes with the seasons/humidity and keeps me on my toes. I am always listening to a book, music, or a podcast.
When I am in a firing stage I am usually loading kilns, glazing, unloading and sanding. Photographing pots, editing, and website management and social media take time as well. I often spend time after dinner (I love to cook) messaging customers about orders, deliveries or anything where I need to be at a screen. I spend evenings with my husband at home, or with friends when occasion arises.
5. What’s your process for creating your pieces?
I make what I see as useful. I want my work to live in your dish rack and in your hands. Many of the pots I make are things I use in my kitchen every day.
I start with the use: hot cereal for example.
I envision the ideal size and shape for this use: medium size with a round bottom for use with a spoon, high walls for insulation, foot ring, lip for a spoon to rest against, walls to hold heat etc…
I decide the weight of clay I need: 2lbs
I prepare a number of balls for the wheel, and set to throwing. The first bowl is a sketch of sorts to set into being this vessel. Does it feel just right for its desired use? It has to be a bit large, because my clay shrinks about 11%. This kind of evaluation and perfection happens throughout the throwing process. Each pot is made to feel easy and energetic and useful. When making multiples, things being the “same” is not actually a first priority. The first priority is always honesty & energy.
6. How does sustainability fit into the work that you do?
When making any decision for my business I try to choose the most sustainable option. For example I only ship using second-use packing materials, and I work in a group studio where we share resources. Any way I can lessen my impact on the planet is a good thing, and I try to make it a pillar of my business practices. I have a hoard of boxes and bubble wrap donated by friends in my basement, and so far my husband has not complained.
7. If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I was a full time collegiate running coach, Instructor, and Title IX professional, and then was in school to be a Physical Therapist before I created Almond Ave. I think I would have either continued on to be a PT, or deepened my involvement with consent education.
8. Where do you hope to see yourself and your work in 10 years?
I hope to see myself in a light filled studio with a few other potters, a small garden, a studio dog, and a healthy body and mind. Able to teach a handful of students and make work that I am truly proud of, but still learning. Maybe even an employee to do shipping, website, and clay recycling. A girl can dream.
Check out Almond Ave for more inspiring pottery pieces!