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Life & Work with Juni Margrie

Today we’d like to introduce you to Juni Margrie. 

Hi Juni, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
My path to a potter’s career was fairly unconventional. I started with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Melbourne, Australia that is). After graduating I found myself drawn to teaching and spent a decade instructing engineering students on stress calculations, material properties, and mathematical derivatives. It wasn’t until we moved to Savannah, Georgia in 2015 that I decided to take the plunge when a friend convinced me to enroll in a 6-week beginner’s pottery class with her. I was lucky to have Lisa Alvarez Bradley, owner of Savannah’s Clay Spot, as my first pottery teacher. She was joyful, encouraging, patient, and extremely knowledgeable. I was hooked! I enrolled in class after class and learned the basics of wheel throwing, hand-building with slabs and coils, altering the form of a piece, and mixing glazes. There’s something appealing about working with your hands to create a piece that is both useful and beautiful. 

When we moved to Colorado in 2017, I started to think more seriously about converting my hobby into a new career path. Our move coincided with a health scare for me – I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma – and went through two and a half years of chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments. Having an immediate threat to your longevity really makes you think about what matters most and what you want to squeeze into the rest of the life that you have. I decided that I wanted to develop a career that I could tailor around my family time, that would leave me feeling fulfilled at the end of a long day, and where I had creative control and could set and achieve as many goals as I wanted. 

I still enjoy bringing my engineering background to my pottery in various ways – establishing processes and schedules, considering the usefulness and practicality of a design, and delving into the science of materials used in the clay and glazes. Probably also because of my engineering background, my preference tends to be in making utilitarian pieces with good design principles. I like beauty, but I don’t like fussy or over-elaborate styles. I like the idea of my pieces being used, handled, on a daily basis. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
A good mentor of mine once said that mastering something new will take time, effort, frustration, and change. Although my pottery career has been quite short so far, I’ve tried to squeeze as much learning and experience in as possible. I’ve spent hours on end at the wheel practicing centering my clay and pulling up even walls. Anyone who has ever tried pottery will tell you it’s challenging and frustrating. There are lots of things that can go wrong during any step of the process. 

I fell in love with porcelain clay early on – the ‘diva’ of clay bodies. Porcelain tends to crack and warp more easily, so I’ve had to learn how to work around that. My earlier pieces used to be heavy, with handles that were too small and surface designs that looked clumsy and slap-dash. I’ve learned to let go of my ego and be willing to receive feedback from people in order to improve my designs. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I’m a potter who enjoys making functional fine porcelain pieces that celebrate the joy that flowers and plants can bring to our daily rituals at home. My range runs the gamut from mugs, dessert plates, and bowls through to large centerpiece vases, teapots, and serving platters. 

I enjoy working with porcelain for its translucency and lightness. Porcelain feels and looks delicate and fine, yet it is incredibly strong and durable. It also has an incredibly long and interesting history. Society has used decorative porcelain for collectibles, as diplomatic gifts, and for ceremonies among other things. Personally, I like to use a surface decorating technique called “mishima”, which originated in Korea. I use a needle tool to hand carve whimsical botanical illustrations that I then inlay with a stained slip and hand-paint the accents (fruit, flowers, leaves, and so forth) afterwards. I’ve really been enjoying this style and I think this is what I’m becoming known for. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned about mastering porcelain in a relatively short period of time. It really is such a beautiful and responsive material to work with. And when the Purchaser for the Denver Botanic Gardens Gift Shop invited me to be a vendor, I was beyond thrilled! 

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Persistence and patience has been key for me. Choosing a career in pottery in my 40s was a complete shift. I had to learn how to learn again. It was humbling, and I had to give myself time and grace. And of course, there’s not just the technical skill of pottery to be learned but also the plethora of other hats that a creative entrepreneur wears! How do I market myself as an artist? How and where do I make my sales? What is my unique style? How do I obtain a business license and set up sales taxes? What do you mean there are 276 local tax jurisdictions in Colorado?! 

I also never accepted the starving artist stereotype. I believe that creative entrepreneurs can, and deserve to have successful and fulfilling careers, just like anyone else! 

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Image Credits
Juni Margrie Ceramics

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