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Meet the Artist SPOTLIGHT: Tiffany Hilton

Meet the Artist SPOTLIGHT: Tiffany Hilton

Since Pinch’s founding in 1979, we’ve been staunch supporters of independent artisans. We are constantly inspired by artists all over the country (and those close to home) who pursue their creative visions and help enhance the world with their work. Our shop is an homage to the beautiful and the odd, and we are endlessly grateful to curate a space so filled with charming, handcrafted goods.
To show our gratitude for the people who help us make that possible, we’ve launched a SPOTLIGHT series to take you behind the scenes of our beloved artists' studios, interviewing them about their processes and featuring photos of their workspaces—bringing you right into the brilliant center of their creativity!
In this edition of the series, we talk to local potter Tiffany Hilton. Her elegant, earthy ceramics are ideal for everyday use and make wonderful wedding gifts: her mugs fit the curve of a palm perfectly and her designs are at once functional and beautiful. Tiffany is heavily involved in the Pioneer Valley arts community and has been the founding force behind Valley Wed, the Makers Market, and more! You'll find her work along the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail this April, and you'll always find a well-stocked selection in our shop!
Tiffany Hilton in her studio, photo by John PolakWe hope you'll be as inspired by this amazing artist as we are!

What brought you to pottery? 
I took my first ceramics class my second year of undergrad at SUNY New Paltz. I had already been exploring sculpture and metals classes, but when the option to make functional art presented itself…I was hooked! I fell in love with the material and the process, and also with the fact that you can recycle clay.

How/when did you make the decision to go full-time? 
I officially started my business in 2005 and began selling pots at the Farmers Market in Greenfield. I managed to make pots part-time for about 10 years while also holding part-time jobs in libraries. Eventually my annual income from pottery crept up and I felt I could estimate what my income could be as a full-time potter and teacher. My husband was in graduate school so it wasn’t the best time to leave my steady job – but I reached a point where I could not wait another year. I resigned as the Library Director from the Whately Public Library on Dec 31, 2014. I’ve been a full-time potter for just over three years and I feel grateful everyday for work that I love.

Stella running quality controlWhat’s a typical day in your studio like? 
I usually start my day with an hour of office work first thing in the morning – returning emails, doing banking, shipping packages, and getting organized for the day. My dog Stella and I get to the studio around 9 or 10am. I shut off my phone from 10-4 to focus on my work. I’m either making pots, trimming pots, glazing pots or loading/unloading kilns each day…and teaching classes a few nights a week from 6-8:30. It’s hard work but I do take breaks to walk my dog, stretch, or meet a friend for lunch or tea.

How often do you come up with new designs/shapes/glazes? Do you set aside creative time to do so, or is your process of creation more organic? 
Every January I flip through old sketchbooks and see if there are any ideas I want to give more attention to. Things I didn’t explore far enough. It is sometimes a slow process to come up with new designs, but especially new glazes. While I am usually testing out glaze samples all year – it can take many months and several firings to figure out how to use a new glaze. I’m always making new work for my open studio events in April and November. Sometimes new forms come quickly too! Like these simple planters I’ll be showing at Pinch soon! I’ll have lots of new work in April for the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, an annual studio tour of 23 potters at 9 studios in Western Mass.

You’re very active in the local ceramics community—you participate in the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail and recently made 150 bowls for the Amherst Survival Center’s 10th annual Empty Bowls Dinner, you’re even represented in Mike Pool’s installation at Park Hill Orchard (juggling bowls no less!)—besides being a particularly welcoming place for the arts, what do you appreciate about living and working in the Valley? 
Thank you! Even though I mostly work alone in my studio I constantly ask myself how I can contribute to my community. I feel the Valley is full of community-minded people. I love knowing so many other artists, farmers, and small business owners who are making a living here. It’s inspiring. Western Mass is a beautiful place to live and our neighbors tend to support the arts and small businesses. Win, win.

You also teach pottery-making classes—how did that come about? What are your favorite aspects of teaching? 
I apprenticed with Kit Cornell as a potter from 1998–2001. After my first year she had me teaching her beginner wheel classes. She would listen to me through the floorboards from upstairs in the kitchen and give me feedback on my teaching. I grew to love it and still find it so rewarding to see students proud of their work. I have a quote on my website by Marguerite Wildenhain that sums up my love for teaching:  “A good teacher must not only know what she teaches, but also be able to set afire her students’ interest and dedication. Such a spark does not generate itself alone; no, the teacher has to be aflame herself. She must not only know but must love her profession passionately.” I feel it is part of my job to pass on my knowledge…and to inspire students to make good work.
And while we’re on the topics of all the amazing things you manage to do—starting the Maker’s Market, an annual craft fair held at Signature Sounds, and Valley Wed, an annual wedding fair at Quonquont Farm—you strike us as being wonderfully capable of balancing a business mentality with an artistic one. Is this something that comes naturally to you? How do you organize your time to fit it all in?  
Well, thank you. I am not sure that I have a business mentality, but I do have an uncommon trait for most artists, which is that I’m extremely organized. I’m half artist, half librarian. Keeping organized makes me able to manage my task list, meet marketing deadlines, and follow through with customers and galleries. I’ve also created a strong community here in the Valley and that opened opportunities for me to work with the Signature Sounds team – putting on the Makers Market show at the Parlor Room and also at Green River Festival. It turns out that I LOVE bringing people together. I love turning an empty room or an open field into a show or festival, and I also like creating opportunities for other artists. Because I know what it’s like to be a vendor at a craft fair, and because I’m good at networking and keeping spreadsheets – it turns out that I’m also good at organizing shows! These odd jobs allow me to work with some really fun people and also diversify my income a bit.

What inspires you? 
Other artists inspire me. Nature inspires me. Architecture, sculpture, historic and contemporary pottery. Good design and creative people inspire me. The shape of a stone. The silhouette of a leaf. Beautiful landscapes or crusty old buildings. You never know what little thing might spark an idea.

What’s next for you, artistically speaking? Anything exciting you want to share with us?
Everyday I try to make pots better than the day before. It’s a practice I’m never tired of. I would love to make time to explore some printmaking. My husband and I are also hoping to collaborate on some new work – lamps or wall pieces – we aren’t sure what will happen yet!

Tiffany Hilton tabletop, photo by John Polak

Tiffany Hilton teaching