Louisville Stoneware is one of the oldest stoneware manufacturers in the country, having created beautifully handcrafted pottery for nearly 200 years. Without seeing the process with your own eyes, it’s hard to imagine how each piece is carefully crafted. It’s a feeling of stepping back in time, but with modern techniques, technology and materials.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Nancy Shephen, Director of Communications & Tourism Development for Louisville Stoneware and find out what’s in store for the future.
LORI KOMMOR: Louisville Stoneware has been a part of our community for nearly two centuries. Can you share with us its history and how the company has evolved over the years to be such a success?
NANCY STEPHEN: Although the basic process has stayed the same, factors that have contributed to Stoneware’s success over the years have been threefold: its people, the evolution of product offerings and a combination of the product’s functionality and durability.
In 1815 when Jacob Lewis established the Lewis Pottery Company. He supplied what was the Tupperware of its day: stoneware crocks and whiskey jugs, among other pieces.
The pottery went through several hands in the 1800s and came into possession of James Bauer. Followed by John B. Taylor in 1938, the business became a major supplier of dishware, flowerpots and bakeware. After the death of Taylor, John Robertson, a ceramics engineer, saved the pottery from closing in 1970, changed the name to Louisville Stoneware.
Christy Lee Brown took over in 1997, transforming the company with new branding, new patterns, partnering with 21c Museum Hotel, updating the showroom, adding factory tours and creating an internet strategy. Steve Smith became the steward in 2007.
As we head toward our 200th anniversary in 2015, we are always respectful of the past and take this time-honored tradition very seriously. It is that dedication and listening to customer feedback that will keep the Stoneware Art Factory around for another 200 years.
KOMMOR: Tell us about the Paint Your Own Pottery Studio.
STEPHEN: Experiential tourism is a big component of what travelers are looking for when visiting a destination. After witnessing the process and the care that goes into crafting each piece, many customers want to give it a try themselves.
The customer uses our glazes, brushes and stencils to paint on the same quality “greenware” that Stoneware artists do. When they’re done, we complete the process with an overglaze and firing in the kiln with the result being your own usable piece of Stoneware that you can proudly say “I painted.”
KOMMOR: Can you share with us the details of the renovation your facility will undergo in 2014?
STEPHEN: We have already implemented some changes in our factory that have streamlined the production process and improved the flow of the tour. This will allow us to expand our retail space from approximately 2,100 square feet to 2,500 square feet. Improvements will include a new checkout counter, updated restroom facilities and the addition of a kitchen that will be used for product demonstrations.
Renovations will begin in January, happening overnight and on weekends. The store will remain open. Factory operations will not be affected, nor will the tours or paint your own pottery experiences.
Along with the structural changes, the merchandise displays will take on a new look and feel, evoking the style of a mercantile or marketplace.
People are rediscovering that quality, handmade products hold their value and are long-lasting. We are sourcing Kentucky-made products like cocoa, cookies, olive oils, sorghum and more that will be sold alongside our pottery, making the store a destination for all of your home, garden and kitchen needs.
We expect renovations to be completed in early-March with a grand reopening and a “Meet the Makers” event to be held on April 10.
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune