A native of Corrales, New Mexico, I grew up eating and drinking from the stoneware produced at Hanselmann Pottery, a staple of my hometown since 1970. It was only as an adult, however, that I discovered that Hanselmann's unique business philosophy was as special and enduring as its hand-thrown tableware: Hanselmann's Corrales brick and mortar store operates on the honor system. In an increasingly commodified and mass-produced world, the trust, community and hand-craftsmanship valued by Hanselmann is truly special. Owner Luke Parker recently invited us behind the scenes of this community staple to learn more about his local company (with a global presence!) and meet some of the makers at its heart: Head Potter James West and potters Jessica Penrod and Octavio Zambrano. The trio's work is featured in the video above, while below is our interview with Studio Manager Esther Fredrickson.
Please tell us about Hanselmann Pottery, its origin story and unique business model.
For nearly 50 years, there’s been pottery in Corrales, New Mexico, run on the honor system. The idea is, customers come to the studio, pick out their pieces, and leave their money in the box. The business itself has changed ownership a few times since 1970, but the name has always stuck, and the honor system payment method has never changed. In more recent years, we’ve created a modern line of tableware that is entirely wheel thrown, and expanded our business online. Each one of our pieces is made entirely by hand, by a master potter working at the wheel. Our aesthetic is somewhat modern, while still retaining the warmth and old world craftsmanship of handthrown work.
What role does tradition and hand craftsmanship play in the work at Hanselmann Pottery?
A core part of our identity and philosophy is that handthrown work is just better. There are more efficient ways to mass produce ceramics using plaster molds, but the uniformity and clunkiness of these forms can be aesthetically limiting. Pottery that is turned by hand on the wheel -- the old fashioned way -- has a visible human touch that cannot be replicated by a machine. The subtle throwing lines visible in our cups and bowls, and lug style handles in our mugs are very indicative of how each piece was literally shaped by hand.
Tell us about your craftsmen and women.
The potters who work at Hanselmann Pottery each have 5-30 years experience throwing at the wheel. Many people have some rudimentary familiarity with wheelthrown pottery, maybe from a high school art class. The challenge is not just to create something beautiful, but to be able to recreate that same form precisely. It has not been easy to find potters who have this extremely high level of skill, and still it takes weeks or months to master all the forms in our collection. But we are fortunate to have four talented and dedicated potters on our team! James West is our lead potter, and designed our current line. His aesthetic sensibilities and decades of experience have really shaped our brand.
Jessica Penrod began studying as a painter, but shortly after learning how to throw on the potter’s wheel, she has transitioned into creating functional vessels. In addition to creating the pieces from the Hanselmann Pottery line, she also makes beautiful hand painted ceramics on her own, which you can find at our shop in Corrales. Christina Rockwell joined us earlier this year. She is also the art instructor at Jefferson Middle School. And Octavio Zambrano is our newest hire. He first apprenticed with us for several weeks, and we are delighted to have him with us full time now.
How do you determine what products to produce?
We are in high demand year round, so much so that we are rarely able to backstock inventory. We make the vast majority of the work sold through our website to order. Our customers know and appreciat that our products take time to produce, and can expect to wait at least a couple weeks to receive their pottery. So really, the demand from our website mainly drives what we make on any given day. For any order we always make sure to make several extras as well. From start to finish it takes 2-5 weeks to make a piece, and between throwing and trimming and bisque firing and glazing and high firing, a lot can potentially go wrong. About 10% to 15% of our work will have some small cosmetic flaw in the end, and these are sold as “near-perfects” in our showroom in Corrales.
Why is hand craftsmanship important in today's day and age?
For us, it all begins with a potter, a lump of clay on a spinning wheel, and years of training, practice, and experience. For centuries, across so many cultures, these seemingly ordinary objects - bowls, cups, plates - were made painstakingly by hand, passed down from generation to generation, and cherished for their singular function and artistic qualities. Today we live in a world where so many everyday objects are made cheaply with machines, automation, and underpaid labor on factory lines. The things that exist in our homes and kitchens are made by strangers, sometimes literally across the world from us. They are usually cheap. Cheaply made, cheaply bought, and cheaply disposed of. Acquiring everyday objects this way is a relatively new thing, and it doesn't always line up with our personal values. Something we spend time with every day, even something as simple as a mug, can have meaning to us. We believe deeply that if you are able to, you should strive to support the artisans, farmers, artists, craftspeople, or creators whose work you believe in. Instead of buying something because it’s cheap, buy it because you want to support a local shop, or someone you know. You might even consider making it yourself, if you can. It’s an idea that our culture has lost touch with recently, but it still resonates with a lot of people. I think there’s a hunger for quality products, artisan businesses, and community as an alternative.
How can people find Hanselmann products?
Our website is hanselmannpottery.com. That’s the best way to place an order directly with us. Even if you live in the Albuquerque area, you can still order online, and we’ll hold it at the shop if you don’t need it shipped. Our studio and honor system gallery are located at 4908 Corrales Road. If you see us working in the back be sure to ask for a quick tour! We love showing people what we’re working on.
And you can also find us on social media. We do a lot on Instagram. Our handle is @hanselmannpottery.