By Linda Scherer
Looking for a special gift idea for that person on your Christmas list who has everything?
Copper Creek Pottery in Winsted, owned by Scott and Starrla (Mathews) Cray, might have just what you are looking for.
The shop, in their home at 510 Second Street, offers unique, handcrafted stoneware pieces that are both practical and decorative.
“We have a lot of inventory,” Starrla said. “We have just about everything that you could want and we try to make our pottery reasonably priced.”
The Copper Creek Pottery offers online sales at their web site, www.coppercreekpottery.weebly.com.
Anyone interested in stopping by the shop to see the pottery in person should call (507) 351-8650 to set up a time.
It has been almost a year since the Crays began expanding Scott’s eight-year pottery hobby into a business.
Moving from Hutchinson to their home in Winsted has given them the space they needed to set up a work shop, drying area, and shelves to display their work.
Scott began making pottery as a sophomore in high school.
When he began taking pottery classes, he knew immediately it was something he had an affinity for.
As he got closer to graduating from Chaska High School, he worried about how he would be able to continue his hobby following graduation since he didn’t have any pottery equipment of his own.
He saved his money, eventually buying his own wheel, pug mill, tools, and lots of clay. The equipment cost him about $5,000.
He still did not own a kiln, but was given permission from his high school art teacher to use the school’s kiln when he needed to.
About a year ago, the Crays added a kiln to their business, which they keep at Starrla’s parents’ farm south of Lester Prairie.
Over the years, Scott has received several awards for his pottery, but the one he appreciates the most, he received while he was still in high school.
The award was given by the Lake Conference for excellence the highest award for art that can be received in high school.
He still has the vase that won him the award.
“In high school, I did tall vases almost exclusively, and all of my awards I have won on vases,” Scott said. “To me, they are the most technically challenging and the most creative.”
Each additional amount of height in creating a piece of pottery makes the project more difficult, according to Scott.
Part of his fascination with pottery has been learning how to develop a method that works effectively, rather than learning how to make one piece of art.
He has developed the best way to master each of the steps of pottery clay preparation, forming the piece, drying, and glazing.
Before Scott begins a project, he knows exactly how much clay he will need and what its consistency should be.
To make a mug might take 15 minutes to a half-hour, and he is able to finish it right on the wheel.
A big vase might take an hour or two and the clay might have to be trimmed at a couple of different stages before it is finished.
Just drying the pottery requires a specific process so the clay will dry uniformly and not develop stress cracks.
Before firing the dried clay, called greenware, the pottery is very fragile, according to Scott.
Then, the greenware is placed in a kiln and fired to a temperature of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This turns the clay into a ceramic, which is a lot stronger than the greenware, but very porous.
The final firing is done with the glaze at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the process is complete, the stoneware is nontoxic, food safe, high quality, and very tough. It is dishwasher-safe and oven-proof.
Although Starrla had never done any pottery until about a year ago, she has definitely made her contributions to the business.
She does engraving, jewelry, pendants, buttons, and Christmas ornaments, and she also helps with the glazes.
The glaze is another technique which requires trial and error seeing how glazes affect one another.
The glaze can be layered on by spraying, dipping, splashing, or pouring.
“That is why each piece is unique,” Starrla said.
The color of the glaze is determined by the thickness of it, according to Scott.
“You can use white and blue and it can make black,” Starrla said “Or maybe, it could make a lighter blue.”
“It depends on how thick the glazes are layered,” Scott said.
To add to the complicated coloring process, glazing horizontally versus vertically makes the glazes behave differently. An example would be the glaze on a plate versus the glaze on a vase.
“It is something you have to keep it in mind if you want a cup to match a plate,” Scott said.
The couple have attended several art fairs and shows since the beginning of the year, which has helped to establish their business.
They have found the shows to be profitable, and word has gotten out on the quality of their product.
What really pleases the Crays is customers who return with previously purchased pieces, asking to have another piece of pottery to match.
“We really do focus on customer service,” Scott said.
For now, the Crays have put art shows on hold while they focus on their online sales for the winter.
Copper Creek Pottery will be taking special orders for Christmas, but they must be placed very soon so the pottery can be ready on time for the holiday.
More about the Crays
Scott graduated from Chaska High School and then attended Minnesota State University, Mankato where he graduated with a mechanical engineering degree.
Starrla is a graduate of Lester Prairie High School and she attended Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she majored in journalism.
Starrla and Scott met while attending the University and have been married since August 2005
Starrla is a full-time writer for the Herald Journal.
In addition to writing, Starrla is also an artist who paints with acrylics and watercolor and hopes to someday write and illustrate her own children’s books.
“I love her stories and she is also a very good painter,” Scott said.