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Mendocino Talking: Jan Hoyman

 (Jan Hoyman owns the Jan Hoyman Pottery Studio ( at 323 North Main Street in Ukiah. She was born in Oshkosh Wisconsin, then moved to Goshen Indiana, the heart of Mennonite Amish country. First daughter, second child of five. Attended Indiana University, took some art classes in college, became “enamored with clay” but decided she had to go to California in 1976 because “the Beach Boys were singing about it all the time.” That’s as good a reason as any. Jan continues…) 

Because of the Mennonite Amish community around us there were a lot of pacifists in my junior and senior High Schools, so we did a lot of marching around against the Vietnam war. We were feeling our own individuality, trying to get to the root of how things really are.

There were posters around the art department at the college about a long-term workshop in Nevada City where you would dig your own clay, and use wood-fired kilns and kick wheels rather than electricity… and once I got to California it was so alluring I stayed and never went back. Standing outside in shirtsleeves… why would I want to go back where it was snowing? That is also where I met my ex-husband, Doug.

After a brief stay in a macrobiotic community up in Butte County, we decided we wanted to learn a lot more about ceramics, so we went off to England for a year and learned a whole lot more, apprenticing ourselves to a bunch of different potters there and eventually returned and landed at the Frey Ranch here in Mendocino in 1982.

In 1984 we decided to really get serious and build a business with direct and wholesale accounts so we acquired the studio on Main street that we still occupy. Part of our Mission Statement is to use local materials as much as possible. There are no clay veins here in Mendocino County, so most of the clay that we use comes from Lincoln, near Sacramento.

At the height of our business in 2007 we had 13 employees and shipped to 40 galleries and that was just too crazy. Then in 2008 we crashed along with every other small business. In the past, pottery was somewhat counter-cyclical to the economic recessions as people found real value in hand-made artisan products. But this one was deeper and hurt a lot of us.

JanHoymanI make a point of working on the wheel myself twice a year. But I have a business to run. I now have three employees… two of them have worked here 15 and 17 years so they have their thing down, and I don’t have to do much overseeing of them anymore.

Over the years I have built up a loyal local following that sustains my business. There are a few galleries that I still deal with but this level of business works for me. I like the idea of being the “Village Potter.” That is not an entity that exists much anymore in our culture, but whether it is the potter, or the village silversmith, or village author, it’s about keeping that part of creativity close at hand. You can buy a mug at Walmart for $2, or you can buy one from me which has a whole lot more time and effort and love put in for a lot more. We personalize like crazy… if someone wants a name on it, or a Giants logo, we do that. Some may not have the budget, but keeping that idea alive is important in keeping our communities alive. It’s also important for people to have meaningful work, and I’m happy I can employ people doing something that is not seemingly frivolous like McDonalds or Walmart.

We sell out of our shop here on Main Street, and also on-line from our website. People who have bought my work before, but may live in New York City, may look at one of their mugs and wish they could give one to a friend down the street, so they can order it online and keep that connection.

One of the things we humans deserve in the world is to be able to eat. So I like to provide a lot of bowls for Plowshares for their Empty Bowls fundraiser every year. All of the bowls that I send to Plowshares I make myself. It’s a spring event, you buy a ticket, you have soup and salad and bread and dessert, so you get to have the experience of what Plowshares does feeding the homeless in our community.

I so appreciate this community, the makeup of it. I’m really tied into our well-rounded community. And the main way I participate is to produce products that are useful and filled with hands-on intention.

[The Jan Hoyman Annual Studio Sale is the first Saturday in December. Coming Soon: Doug Mosel — Organic Farmer, Mendocino Grain Project; Spencer Brewer — Composer, Pianist, Performer, Impresario, Concert in the Park, Acoustic Cafe; Pinky Kushner — Neuroscientist, Sierra Club] 

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