Three Decades at the Wheel
potter Caradori focuses on quality, not fame
‘Where can you buy something for $3 that someone made?” David Caradori asks incredulously. “It’s good business sense to have something for everyone.”
In this case, the “something for $3” is a beautiful little pottery dish handmade by Caradori, who is celebrating his 30th year in business as the second oldest continuously running pottery shop in Wisconsin. He took over the shop – at 359 Ferry St. in Eau Claire’s Shawtown neighborhood – from Tim Gabriel his first year out of college. David was a nursing major whose only college art course came during the summer of 1984 between his junior and senior years. He signed up for a humanities ceramics class for the summer. It struck a chord in him: He had no regrets being inside all day until late at night making pottery, a feeling he never had toward nursing.
“It’s hard work. Money won’t make you happy, relationships with people will. I’m building great relationships with people. I try not to take it for granted.” – David Caradori, Caradori Pottery
After college, David left for Okinawa, Japan, to make a little money working on a military base and writing a travel book about things to do in Okinawa for soldiers. He was still very interested in pottery and met a world-famous Japanese potter, who he convincing to take him on as an apprentice for the next six months. David wanted to do more than just learn how to make pottery – he wanted to understand why he wanted to make it.
“I’m giving people beauty,” he says. “I like making it; they like to buy it.” David explains why there aren’t a lot of businesses like his: “It’s hard work. Money won’t make you happy, relationships with people will. I’m building great relationships with people. I try not to take it for granted.”
Caradori Pottery’s success is predicated on customer loyalty, with returning customers comprising 90 percent of his business. “People in Eau Claire don’t care about pedigree, they buy on merit,” he says. “It’s about the relationship, they want the energy in the piece.” David said artists now want to be nationally recognized, whereas he gets no level of satisfaction when it comes to fame.
When I asked him if any of his works were in galleries or museums, I learned that he did have pieces at a contemporary art museum in New York. He quickly brushed off the honor, saying he can’t rest on his laurels but must be constantly evolving and changing. He also said the older you get the less energy you have, and there are always new methods to learn.
“Half the art I do is in the firing,” he explains. “All glazes are complex, subtle, interesting facets I developed myself.” When he speaks about his pieces he comes alive describing each piece and its finishes. “There are a lot of complexities to them, not all revealing,” he explains to me while holding up a beautiful blue vase with red glaze. His pieces range in price from $3 to $300. “I like making things that are functional,” he says. “My goal is to make stuff to use.”
David has trained more than 30 apprentices, but said he hasn’t had one in over a year. He said he’s extremely picky when choosing an apprentice. He remembers the best piece of advice he ever received came from his favorite college teacher, Jim Benning, who knew if David went on to a nursing a career and started making money he wouldn’t have returned to pottery. Jim encouraged David to try pottery; if it didn’t work out, he could always return to nursing.
David said he’s never going to quit making art. “I’m in it for the long haul,” he explains. “Doing a job like this is not restful, and it gets harder to re-invent yourself. There are not as many opportunities, but it’s a nice way to make a living because you control your own destiny.”
David is a driven, open, genuinely honest artist, and his shop is definitely worth a stop. Look at each piece, ask about each piece, and don’t forget your $3!