Early this past spring, Deb and I had the chance to visit One Acre Ceramics in Milan. There, artists Thomas and Sarah Gelsanliter, founders of One Acre Ceramics, shared with us the workings of their business and how, through their years of schooling, travel, and working under and alongside other craftsmen, were able combine each other’s skills to achieve independence as artists.
The One Acre Ceramic Studio
Pulling into the Gelsanliter property, one can quickly realize from where the name “One Acre Ceramics” comes. Turning off the freshly graded and dusty dirt road, onto a small bridge crossing Stony Creek, you soon see a picturesque old farm house set inside a parceled-off acre of land, all within seemingly endless miles of corn fields. Parked in their driveway, with directions to meet them at the red barn at the back of their property, you are met with no ambiguity. The red barn is just as pronounced as the house, punctuated by a lean-to on the right side which houses their chickens. Mostly hens, the more distinctive ones display a gilded appearance; the flock consists of silkies, salmon faverolles, Mille Fleurs, and Cochins.
Inside the barn, which is by no means spacious is their studio, with every square inch serving a purpose. Inside the door immediately to the right, Thomas has his RAM press where he makes their tiles and butter dishes. A metal shelving unit extends into the middle of the room which houses all the finished wares fresh from the kiln. Past the shelving, near the back of the barn, Sarah has her throwing station. A Shimpo wheel faces the front door and is elevated so she can throw standing up. A small staircase leads into an attic which is used for storage. In addition, continuing along that same wall, Thomas has a station where he hand presses clay into molds before they are passed on to Sarah at the wheel; this area also doubles as the glazing station. Lastly, at the back corner sits their two electric kilns. All of this inside about 400 square feet!
Thomas and Sarah Gelsanliter
Sarah and Thomas met at a ceramic studio in Alexandria VA where Sarah was working as a resident artist and Thomas was working as a studio tech. Soon after their lives converged, talks of one day establishing their own ceramics business commenced. Having had taken art classes in college and further developing a passion for ceramics in Alexandria, Thomas began applying to art school. He was accepted into The Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, MI. for ceramics. While Thomas was attending classes, Sarah began making pots in the historical pottery studio at The Greenfield Village in nearby Dearborn, MI. She would often be given quotas of up to 100 pieces with certain specifications a day. This work as a production potter has helped Sarah immensely in her studio today. Having gained an appreciation for the work and finding pleasure in making many pots within precise parameters, her heart is revealed in her thrown pieces.
Upon graduating from Cranbrook, Thomas began his internship at the historic Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, PA. Soon after that Thomas accepted a position as Mold Maker for Motawi Tileworks in Ann Arbor, MI., where he would go on to become the Production Coordinator. During this time Sarah continued her work at Greenfield Village and taught classes at Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, MI, The Ann Arbor Art Center, and Yourist Studios in Ann Arbor (where she is still teaches classes). Teaching ceramics is a passion of Sarah’s which is interwoven with her passion for making pots. Being able to stay involved with teaching ceramics allows her to learn and try new things along through working and socializing with other potters.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will share some of the processes at One Acre Ceramics along with what it was like for Sarah and Thomas to go off on their own!