“Hand-made treasures, locally grown goodness and breath-taking beauty around every bend”
It is official! Shenandoah County named the trail and the press release came out in February. It seems the entire county is now gearing up to launch the trail and show off our artists and agri-artisans within our county. In April, Shenandoah County tourism folks are planning a local event and are featuring many of the people who have signed up for the trail. Their partnership with the Artisan Center of Virginia is what has made the trail happen They have named the event “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes” and it is set for Sunday, April 21, 2012. It will be from 12-5 p.m. I am going to be set up for this at Natural Art Garden Center here in Tom’s Brook. The County Chamber has a lovely window display in their window in Woodstock, VA and have some of my work displayed to promote this Spring event.
This winter, I have been working on getting a building on my property transformed into a new workspace to house the studio. My basement has been where I have been working and if you have ever been to my house, you know that the basement has a low ceiling. It does have a cement floor, which is nice, because I can spray out the dust, but I have support poles in my way and have really cramped quarters.
I have a building on my property that we have used for storage for years. It is basically a story and a half and the square footage is not much more than my basement, if even bigger, but I will have one continuous room and can set things up in a more efficient way. AND it has normal ceilings which will make it feel bigger… for a while.
My permits are applied for, my contractor is ready to get to work, I am just waiting for a meeting of the town planning committee to meet so they can give me the final go ahead. At that point the building is getting a new look with metal siding, new windows and doors and a new floor. Budget constraints kept me from getting everything that I wanted but as the business grows, so can my upgrades to my space.
If you use Facebook, “like” Laughing Orange Studio and see the progress as it happens there.
Or stay tuned on this blog for updates as well…
Work in Progress
Laughing Orange was featured in a local tabloid called the Mountain Courier. Rich Follett, a regular writer for them, wrote the story for his regular feature called Work in Progress. I’ve included the text here since the paper is not an online publication:
Laughing Orange Studio
by Rich Follett
In a pre-interview email, I asked Susie Morgan Wilburn for the address of her home studio. The reply came back promptly, with a bit of additional information: “You can see it from space!” Right from the start, I was aware that this would be no ordinary visit. As it turns out, Laughing Orange STudio is indeed a literal rather than a figurative moniker: the house is bright orange, whimsy fills every corner, and I am reasonably certain that, if afforded access to orbit, one cound indeed see it from space. Susie’s pottery offers a festival of imaginative and playful forms, underpinned with an essential functionality that seems, somehow, like a bonus.
Wilburn had been a ceramics apprentice for two years at Berea College in Kentucky and had been hand building pottery in her home since 1992, firing her pieces in a kiln passed down from a family member. Then, for Christmas 2010, her husband gifted her with a second hand potter’s wheel. She took to the wheel immediately, finding that her remembered skills came back quickly and easily. The Universe provided a final nudge in 2011 when Wilburn was laid off from the job she had held for more than 20 years with a printing firm. Faced with an uncertain future and limited job prospects, Wilburn began to question whether her pottery skills might not only support themselves but also help to support her family. In the fall of 2011, Wilburn was asked to make 25 bowls for the area’s annual Empty Bowl soup supper. With her characteristic whimsical flair, she crafted a small ceramic frog into each of her pieces, to be gradually revealed as the contents were eaten. Her fog bowls were a resounding success; the supply was exhausted very early in the evening and patrons were clamoring for more.
Based on the success of the frog bowls, Wilburn accepted an invitation from the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, (an organization for which she continues to serve as a volunteer) to sell her pottery at a holiday open house. In three hours’ time, Wilburn sold $1,700 worth of her art. The community had given Wilburn her answer and there was no looking back. Laughing Orange Studio was born in 2012, its name taken from the particular color of Sherwin Williams paint that makes the home studio stand out in the Wilburn’s otherwise sedate neighborhood. The inspiration for the cheerful color scheme was taken from a patch of daylilies that bloom in the Wilburn backyard each summer.
From the basement of their gaily painted Toms Brook home, Wilburn spins her potter’s wheel to create playful pottery pieces designed to enchant and to be used daily. Frogs, fish, fossils, fairies, rabbits and botanical design punctuate an endless array of mugs, butter bells, bowls, vases, and other practical household items made wondrous by Wilburn’s deft, clever hands. Wilburn’s vision is in her hands; she does not see pottery pieces in her mind’s eye prior to throwing them, choosing instead to go into “the zone” and giving her hands free rein to shape each pot directly from her subconscious. With every turn of the wheel, Wilburn endeavors to create artful objects that will be used rather than merely displayed–her chorus of ceramic frogs is joyfully chiming “pick me up and use me!”
Another successful facet of Laughing Orange Studio is the “Fairy Garden” line of art pottery designed for indoor or outdoor use. Fairy houses, fairy furniture, fairy garden ornaments, all are lovingly sculpted and hand painted (no two are alike) by Wilburn to be sold locally and shipped around the world. Lately, she has bee challenged to keep up with a rapidly growing fairy garden clientele in Australia, many of whom are placing custom orders–they can dream it, Wilburn will create it. Laughing Orange Studio has quickly outgrown Wilburn’s basement; in the spring of 2013, she is breaking ground on a project to convert an existing Victorian outbuilding into a backyard studio with increased firing capacity, a separate shipping area and space for demonstrations.
Wilburn credits her success to having ahd a strong community identity and presence prior to launching Laughing Orange Studio. She endeavors to tell stories with her pottery and to have her pottery become part of the stories that those who buy and use her pieces will tell in their own lives. It is a gift that will enrich the community—and the Valley—for generations to come.
Susie Morgan Wilburn is a juried member of the Shenandoah Valley Artisan Trail. Her pottery is available at Natural Art Garden Center in Toms Brook, Shenandoah Valley Artworks in Strasburg, Laughing Orange Studio (3397 Hillcrest Drive, Toms Brook) and online through Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop.laughingorangestudio.com
I want to thank everyone that came to the Holiday Open House. I know this is late but, I really do appreciate everyone coming and sharing my new adventure, having some snacks and getting some Christmas gifts. The weather was beautiful and the weekend was super busy but really lots of fun. THANK YOU ALL!!! I’m looking forward to doing it again next year and showing off my new space.
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Please remember Laughing Orange if you need a wedding or special birthday gift. I love doing special orders and handmade items are always more special than something that has been mass produced.
In 2012 I learned:
So, looking ahead to 2013, I am pleased to announce, first off, that I am planning on building a new studio….YAY!!! I go before the planning committee of Tom’s Brook this week and am going to present them with my idea to convert an outbuilding on my property to a studio. My hope is that they will allow me to tear it down and replace it with a new metal building that will be more efficient and will help me to have taller ceilings and more space.
I am also hoping to:
Thanks to everyone that helped me in this first year. I’m realizing that I am happier now than I have been in years and don’t have to deal with anyone’s rules but my own. Happiness isn’t about money, it is about doing what you love but I realize that I have Herb and all of my friends and supporters helping me to do what I love. I just wish I was a bit younger in starting this new adventure.
Etsy just sent me an email stating that they would be offering an Etsy Gift Card this year. While I think there are many positives for the handmade site and the movement to get more involved with buying handmade, I don’t really know that this will help MY sales, per se’.
Gift cards will be the perfect present for the Etsy-obsessed shopper in your life, but even more importantly they’ll be a way for us to introduce new buyers to Etsy. Our community of buyers has grown incredibly in the past year, which can be attributed largely to people like you spreading the word and marketing your shops. Gift cards will allow us to be more aggressive in our own marketing efforts by distributing gift cards to partners and creating promotional offers.
If I am reading it correct, someone could purchase an Etsy gift card for someone for a gift for Christmas, then that person goes onto the Etsy site and shops for an item to use the gift card by entering in a code. That would be when Etsy would send me the money for the purchase, if that person shops at Laughing Orange. I am thinking that I will be looking into offering my previous customers a coupon code that they can key in at checkout for a discount on a purchase. This is a way to thank my loyal customers and to bring in money to my shop instead of someone else’s shop. However, I do think growing the handmade movement will help all artists and craftsmen.
I’m trying to think of all the things to get done now before the holidays come around and I am scrambling trying to “make” things rather than have to worry with the online part of my business. One thing that I think will be helpful to add to my Etsy shop will be a “calendar of final purchase date” so that the customer will
know how much time they are going to give me to make their item and still ship it to arrive before Santa comes. I think I am going to do a screen capture of a calendar and where I am allowed to add five photos of the item for sale, add in the calendar with the ship date on it as a reminder to them.
I need to look ahead to when to put the coupon codes into an email to send around to my base of customers so they have plenty of time to use it for the holidays. Having a black friday online might be fun so I would need to plan to have the email blast go out around the first week of November.
I also think that in planning for the holidays it would be fun to “decorate my shop” with some fun holiday images.Maybe the frog that is in the header of the logo will be wearing a Halloween costume, a pilgrim hat and a Santa hat. Want to send me ideas that you might think would be fun to see him wear?
In the past when I have received gift cards, I usually either worry that it won’t work when I get to the check out at the store or that I’ll forget that I have it. I am not one of those people that goes to the web and looks for deals before I go out shopping, however, if times get leaner, I may have to start. I have gone looking for coupon codes that I could enter at checkout online. Some work and some don’t. Some want you to give them information which only fills up your inbox with spam. That has been a deterrent in the past for me.
So as we get closer to the holidays and I start building inventory, if there is an item that you are thinking ahead as a gift for a relative or a favorite person in your life. Be sure and get me the information early so that I have plenty of time to get it to you. I’m not a planner either, but I may have to start focusing on a calendar in the future. I suppose Google Calendar is going to be my new friend.
You would think that a Vintage Woodstock Festival in Woodstock, VA would really be about sitting in the grass, smoking weed, in a downpour of rain, listening to Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Joan Biaz and Joe Cocker, but this Vintage Woodstock Festival was all about eating some carnival type foods and listening to a local band called the Worx, which were amazing.
The weather was unbearably hot and there was a threat of rain. I actually hoped we would get the rain so that it would cool things down some. But we got a sprinkle and a bit of reprieve from some of the humidity, but not much.
I really enjoyed seeing and meeting with our local residents of Shenandoah County and letting them know that I am here working everyday and if they need a gift or and item for their garden they are more than welcomed to stop in and see me and my work.
I handed out a lot of business cards and did sell a few items, but getting my name out there is a big deal. I think it is also important to do the local festivals so that people start to see that “hand made in America” is a little more expensive than Walmart or Target. I actually had a few conversations to that effect and hopefully educated some people that if you want nice things they are a little bit more costly.
For the most part though, I think everyone really liked the work and I anticipate to start seeing more and more local traffic here at the house. I was also able to tell people about the upcoming Artisan Trail that we are working on here in Shenandoah County that we are hoping to be activated before the end of the year. This will be another post later but it is really exciting to be a part of this new venture for our county.
Prior to the event, I mailed out about 50 postcards to people that had bought my work, both here in the county and from the DC area. I saw a lot of those people so that marketing strategy is a good one. I think because I took the time to handwrite the cards and put a note on them that I hoped to see them there made a difference too. I am still learning about marketing the business and while social media is great for getting the word out there, there is still the old fashioned post card that will do a good job for you if you take the time to apply the personalization.
The next local event that I am looking into is the Ole Time Festival in Edinburg, VA. I’ll be posting as I get more information on that one but lots of folks last night said that would be a good one for me to do in the fall.
Tomorrow is the Vintage Woodstock event that I posted about a couple of days ago and I’ll be packing up my items to take to the town square to set up tomorrow evening. But those same items are still listed in my Etsy shop. At least they are at the moment.
When I do an event, I haven’t figured out what the best approach is to keeping Etsy items listed and taking them live to a show and literally put them in people’s hands. I usually have my new smart phone with me and could easily access the Etsy site right after a piece sells in person and take the listing down. This makes me really nervous because I am at the show and am worried that the items are selling and my not knowing it and then sell the same item in person.
So for now, it seems the easiest solution to this is to deactivate all the items on the Etsy shop, put a message in the top of the opening page and then the day after the show to reactive what hasn’t sold in person. I haven’t had this be a problem yet but I am really worried that it will and with many of my pieces being a one of a kind item, it would really stress me out to try and duplicate something that is in the photo on Etsy. So tomorrow, Laughing Orange on Etsy will be unplugged for a day and then will come back online on Saturday. Thanks for everyone’s patience and in the meantime, I hope I put a lot of things into the local public’s hands and they get to know me better so that they will come in person to pick out items that they would like to purchase.
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