Devorah Yahn — My Story

I first discovered my talents as a maker by drawing on bedroom walls and forming pots in the backyard dirt, making small mud bowls filled with sandbox pies. According to my mom, I cleaned lots of walls and was sent to my room a few times after making my baby brother obediently eat the mud pies.

When I was in elementary school, my parents let me join a small, ceramic greenware shop down the street from us. I spent many hours cleaning-up the seams of greenware frogs, ashtrays, chess sets, and jumping wild horses while listening to the older ladies talk about their favorite Duncan glaze colors, interspersed with stories of their children and families. Today, I realized those ladies sitting around the tables using their Kemper tools to clean the greenware seams and sponging smooth surfaces were my heroes. As a woman in ceramic art, these ladies were my first strong female role models.

During my middle school and high school years in a small rural art room, buried beneath boxes and boxes of old assignments and lost art projects, I found a thigh-operated potter’s wheel and two barrels of rock-hard, dry clay. My art teacher quickly learned not to put any curriculum guidelines on me as I laboriously reclaimed the dry hard clay, while cleaning out the large square electric kiln. I spent every art class hour practicing and learning how to make a pot on the potter’s wheel. It was in that small, rural school art room I became a potter – hooked for life.

My senior year in high school my parents moved our family from small, rural Boscobel, Wisconsin, to the college town of Brunswick, Maine. The Highschool Art Program there did not have any clay in the art curriculum. The art teachers did not want to deal with the infrastructure and duties of this ‘dirty’ medium. BUT, right down the street from the school was a Ceramic Craft Co-op. I quickly joined and skipped all my senior year art classes, earning me my first ‘F’ in art. After graduating from high school, I did a two-year apprenticeship with a production potter in Maine, This is where I learned everything it takes to be a sustainable production potter.

In 1979, I moved back to Wisconsin to marry my middle school sweetheart. We started a family, and I turned the family farm’s abandoned chicken coop into my first clay studio. Once the kids were in school full-time, I went to Viterbo College and got my degree in Art Education. My goal after graduation was to be a part-time art teacher so I could pay for a studio, kiln and my love of making pottery.

Sometimes life can send us down paths we do not choose or expect. Right after graduating from college and buying a new home, my husband was tragically killed in a tree-cutting accident. Left with a mortgage, student loan, and two children to raise alone, I made the reasonable decision to enter the workforce full-time. Being a fulltime studio potter had to be put on hold. I successfully got a job teaching art part-time, and a full-time job working in healthcare. It was a hard decision, but the right one for my family. As I worked and raised my kids, I continued to build my ceramic studio and showroom while making pottery when I could. Today, after committing 35 years to working in education and healthcare, I have retired. Phew… that was full and fun. Today, I am proud to say, my kids have grown-up to be very successful professionals in their careers and life, AND…I finally did it, I am a full-time studio potter at d.y.pottery!

young girl in chair with chickens