Sarah Van Raden, a former photo stylist turned potter, recently opened her ceramic studio and shop, Notary Ceramics, in Portland, Oregon. Sarah started throwing pieces sporadically in her basement in 2015, but as her true métier became evident she moved Notary Ceramics out of her basement and into a beautiful new shop/studio space. Sarah shares her inspirations, journey and insights into her process with The Shopkeepers.
Is there a story behind the name you chose, “Notary Ceramics”? To notarize is to authenticate an original or to make an original copy. This seemed a fitting name for a production potter who hand throws each item – therefore each piece is an original.
Who designed the shop? Myself and my husband.
What is your signature style? Functional, simple, timeless pottery. Subdued and neutral colors and tones and many floral vessels.
Where are all your ceramics made? All made in my studio in Portland, Oregon.
What makes your shop unique? The shop is a combination of our working, production studio and our showroom/shop.
Who are your customers? My customers are both local walk ins as well as national and international shoppers that want a hand made product and want to support a small business.
How has the internet impacted your business? The internet has been huge for my business, specifically Instagram. It is an amazing marketing tool that connects me and my customers in a personal way that we would not otherwise be able to meet.
Sarah Van Raden, Shopkeeper at Notary Ceramics
Who inspires you? I am constantly inspired by my children and their growing curiosity and adventurous spirits. I am also very inspired by other artists. Specifically, I have loved the work of Imogene Cunningham since I was about 10 years old. I love Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel, Consuelo Castiglioni, Lucie Rie, Emmanuel Alt, and Georgia O’Keefe.
What inspires you? I am inspired by function and form as well as shape and shadow. I love letting go and creating new pieces that I have never made before. The clay often dictates the form, and I kind of follow suit. I also find that I am eternally inspired by florals and greenery. Specifically weeds, pods, dried grasses and dead flowers. I love making vessels that showcase all of the natural world’s abundant beauty.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I…. was working in my basement, making pottery and staying home to take care of my two little daughters.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? How to find a balance and a rhythm. It was important that I expand my business to a new and larger space, but I was worried about how that would affect my kids. I still try to keep work to 3 days a week and I am home with my girls the other days. I start feeling guilty when I am away from them more than that. As they get older I anticipate being in my studio quite a bit more. But, as long as my little Sylvie is still in preschool I want to be around to spend time with her.
What task do you like to delegate? I am incredibly fortunate that my first hire was a beautiful fit. Petra has learned my business over the past year and is now a very crucial part of it. I am happy to delegate bookkeeping and email correspondence to her as well as some of the more creative tasks such as trimming, glazing, firing the kiln and keeping our webshop stocked and running.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? It is still so new, only 8 weeks old, but I am learning to be patient. People are slowly starting to search us out and find us in our new location. It is a big adjustment going from primarily wholesale accounts to selling retail in our own showroom. But I am happy to meet everyone that walks in our door and am always elated to watch people pick up my pieces and maybe even find something they decide to take home with them.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Be sure you have good help in place as it is easy to get burned out with so much socializing! I am grateful that Petra and I can take turns greeting our customers and helping them locate the pieces they are after.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? Garance Dore – I just love her and how grounded she is. I think we could have a great conversation. 🙂
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? A potter
What is your perfect day off? Sleeping in, coffee in bed, breakfast with my family, alone time in my house, picnic in the park and dinner with friends or family.
Do you have five favorite shops? This is tricky because I sell to so many incredible shops. So I will list a few shops that I would like to sell my ceramics to in the future – Two Son in Nashville, Le Marche St. George in Vancouver, Bon in Tuscon, Mur Lifestyle in Winnipeg, ABC carpet and Home in NYC, and Merci in Paris
Favorite neighborhood coffee shop. Heart Coffee on SE Woodstock.
I wish I could… travel with my family more often. It is so damn expensive but there is just so much to see.
On the Future of Retail
“I am hoping that the small shop, and maker movement continues to grow and pick up support and speed. I love seeing people searching out quality, handmade goods that will last the test of time. Much like my grandmothers generation, who knew the importance of taking care of beautiful things and handing them down to the next generation. I see that my peers are wanting less and taking more care with what they bring into their homes and into their lives.”
8035 SE 13th Ave, Portland, Or