Some people cleaned out their closets during lockdown. Others learned how to bake bread or play an instrument. Emma Long, a recent Mount Vernon High School graduate, started a burgeoning pottery business in her mother’s basement. Pots by Emma was born out of a lifelong interest in creative expression, as well as the need to fill the hours, being stuck at home in the early days of the pandemic.
Long traces her love of working with clay to a ceramics class she took at her grandmother’s local studio in North Vancouver, British Columbia, when she was six. “Since I was a very small child, I’ve always loved art, Play-Doh … anything where I’m using my hands,” she shares.
In March of 2020, she was a senior at Mount Vernon High School participating in Running Start, a program for earning future college credits and a high school diploma at the same time. Long was taking classes, such as biology, human anatomy and physiology at Skagit Valley College, and working toward becoming a Registered Nurse. Then COVID hit and normal life came to a screeching halt. Her classes became virtual. She graduated with little fanfare. Her college of choice, Briercrest in Saskatchewan, Canada, was closed for in-person attendance for the foreseeable future, due to international border closings.
Undaunted, Long threw herself into working five days a week at Hayton Farms Berries on Fir Island. She drove a pickup truck filled with up to 150 flats of fresh organic berries, delivered, and sold them in Seattle neighborhoods.
Throwing Her Dream
By October of 2020 she had saved enough money to buy some pottery supplies. Long tried to buy a potter’s wheel online but it was backordered for six months. Undeterred, she went to Seattle Pottery Supply and found a wheel. “At that point, everyone was getting into ceramics,” she says. “I got the last model they had, which was a floor model, the Shimpo VL-Lite. I did my research,” she continues. Priced at $850, it was a commitment, but “the best bang for your buck you can get, it will last me like 20 years,” she adds.
A dedicated electrical circuit was installed in Long’s parents’ basement for a used kiln, which was found on Facebook and gifted to her by a former potter. For the next few months, she experimented with shapes and techniques, making mugs and teapots. “I hoped one day I’d be able to sell my stuff, but I knew this was just the practicing stage.” She turned to Instagram for inspiration and instruction. Some of the ceramic artists she follows include Robynn Storgaard from Copenhagen, Stephanie Cao from Seattle, and Upland Clay from the U.K.
Firing Up Success
It wasn’t until this past summer that Pots by Emma began to take off. Encouraged by her mom, Anne, an urban farmer and owner of The Dahlia House, Long began making vases in which to display her mother’s floral arrangements. “I love working with my mom.” says Long. “Her flowers just set off my pieces so well. Not many mothers and daughters get to sell the things they love at a market together.”
The pair sold flowers and vases at the Skagit Valley Farmer’s Market at Christianson’s Nursery. There, a 5th grade teacher, Tara Bellusci of Sedro-Woolley, encountered Long’s work. “I saw her vases and immediately fell in love,” she says. Bellusci, who is getting married next year, commissioned a 20- to 30-piece collection as centerpieces for her wedding. “Her artwork has a very modern vibe to it, while still being classic,” Bellusci explains. She likes the imperfections that show it’s handmade, as well as the natural accents in the work.
Today, Long is 20, a college freshman and living a dream: she’s sharing her art with the world. Her work sells out on her Etsy shop, she fulfills orders for local markets and gift shops and makes one-of-a-kind special commissions. “I feel so thankful that I get to do this as a job,” she says. “It blows my mind, the support I’ve gotten from people. I feel really thankful that my business has been successful. People are buying the things I’m making. It’s crazy to me!”
Before leaving for college in Saskatchewan, where temperatures can dip below minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Long made dozens of carved and smooth bud vases, pitchers, bowls and mugs for holiday markets. “My style is very classic,” Long says. “I’ve always been drawn to smaller things that are handmade and very intentional. The intention is to make your life happier and give people something they can cherish.” Making pottery can be a very peaceful and meditative experience, once you know what you’re doing, according to Long. “You’re working with dirt. It’s unlike anything else you can do in life.” And, she adds, “It’s also fun to get messy!”