The Couple That Clays Together … Gets to Quit Their Day Jobs

The Battons have come a long way from their first studio, an unheated shed in Montford. Now they make vessels in buzzing Kenilworth. Photo by Morgan Ford

Whoever warned that spouses shouldn’t work together was brooding about cubicles, not clay wheels. Ann and Sandy Batton create harmoniously in a studio next to their home in Kenilworth — and, what’s more, they learned their living from another pottery power-couple

Ann, fresh out of college, moved to Asheville in 1998 (meeting Sandy shortly thereafter) and got a job working for well-known potters Rob and Beth Mangum of Weaverville. There, she handled a variety of tasks, she says, “like loading kilns, wedging clay, sweeping the floors, and mixing glazes.” The Mangums also taught Ann how to make plates, vases, and eventually wheel-thrown bowls and mug handles. When she left seven years later, she was the lead production assistant.

The couple’s signature vessels have deep textural elements.

Meanwhile, Sandy was doing landscape installation work. “I had a lot of creative freedom, and loved working with natural materials. When I met Ann, it took me a long time to understand what she was talking about when she said she was a potter. I didn’t think it was possible to make a living doing that,” he admits.

Something about her work, however, piqued his interest, and he soon found himself stopping in the shop and helping out. He says he started “playing around with clay,” and that helped him appreciate the passion she had for her work. Before long, the two of them began thinking about starting a pottery business together.

Their first studio was an unheated 10-by-10-foot shed behind the house they were renting in Montford. “In that teeny space, we fit a wheel, a kiln, a table, and shelves,” says Ann. “It’s a nostalgic time to think about. A few glaze patterns and shapes developed during that time period [that] we still make and sell today.”

Photo by Morgan Ford

When they got married in 2003, Ann was still working for the Mangums and waitressing on the side. Sandy kept his landscaping job, but his attraction to a career in clay was growing quickly. “At night and on weekends, we would stay up late working on our own products,” says Ann. Soon, they were selling at shows up and down the East Cast, and in 2005, they both gave up their other jobs in order to focus full time on their new company, Batton Clayworks.

In 2008, they moved into their home in Kenilworth; however, their new studio, separate from the house, is only a year old. The light, airy space contains a lot of wood — floors, shelving, and work tables — salvaged from trees that had to be cut down to make room for the structure.

While the couple shares the workload (Sandy does the slab work and Ann does the wheel-thrown pieces), they frequently help one another as the pieces move through the various steps to completion. Whimsy is evident in much of Batton Clayworks’ signature vessels, from mugs studded with raised pastel “dots” to six-sided checkered plates ready for a mad tea party. The legacy plays on through the couple’s two children, a ten-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son. “We have quite an adorable collection of critters and things they’ve made through the years,” says Ann.

Batton Clayworks, 349 Kenilworth Road, Asheville, open 10am-5pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (or call 828-275-7644 to arrange a studio visit). Visit the Battons at the Kenilworth Artists Association’s Memorial Day Weekend Tour, May 26 and 27, 10am-5pm. See kenilworthartists.org for a full list of participants. Vessels are also sold at Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St.), New Morning Gallery (7 Boston Way), the Asheville Chamber of Commerce gift shop (36 Montford Ave.), and online at battonclayworks.com.

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