Tucked behind train tracks and colorfully refurbished buildings, a small blue cottage sits. The light peeking through the glass windows spotlights blazing kilns, wooden tables scattered with metal tools, red and gray clay drying on shelves. It’s a space used to commotion, pottery wheels spinning, kilns producing controlled infernos, the sound of clay being beaten, molded, scrapped, broken.
But the morning I went to visit all was still at Southern Star Studio, except for one room. Regina Mandell’s studio space, like her beautiful ceramics line Forged & Found, holds no pretensions. A banner with the name Forged & Found hangs from an off white wall sprinkled with photos, ceramic jewelry, postcards — little pieces of inspiration. Otherwise, the space is sparsely decorated. Here, beauty is in the elemental. Worktables and shelves are filled with pieces all sharing Forged & Found’s signature aesthetic; white glaze contrasted with earth tones, sometimes the natural clay showing through on sleek and simple, handmade designs. This kind of warmth and care can’t be found on the shelves of department stores.
A Philadelphia native, Regina Mandell has been involved with the arts in one way or another from an early age. After studying upright bass while attending the Philadelphia School for Creative and Performing Arts, Mandell’s creative endeavors have evolved through jewelry design, creating a clothing collection called Niko and running Grasshopper, an award-winning boutique, just to name a few. Whether music, jewelry, vintage clothing or pottery, Mandell has never wasted inspiration.
Have you always been interested in the arts?
I have. The pottery didn’t come until later, but when I was young, I took painting and drawing classes and was always sketching. I was going to a weekend art school growing up in Philadelphia, where I’m from, and when I was in my early 20s I wound up going back there during a time when I was unemployed for a little bit. I started taking free adult classes, and that’s when I got into ceramics for the first time. I often would go back and take classes there. When I moved from Philly to Athens two years ago, my fiancé suggested looking into Good Dirt, and I did. I started taking classes there and then doing independent work out of that studio until early this year, this spot opened up in Southern Star Studio. I’m so happy to be here right now. It’s a great space with a wonderful group of local potters.
Did you start Forged and Found here in Athens?
I started it in Philly. Originally “Forged” was anything that I was making by hand, a little bit of pottery, some block printed cards and fabrics, jewelry. The “Found” part was vintage clothing and accessories. I ran a successful Etsy shop and would sometimes do little events and sell sometimes just out of my house, like have the girls over and have a dinner party and get rid of stuff. Eventually I streamlined it, stopped the vintage and was just doing the jewelry and pottery. But the pottery is really what has taken off so that’s where I finally put my focus.
What did having the clothing collection and the boutique teach you about running a ceramics business?
The clothing line made me learn how to deal wholesale and how to present myself as a wholesaler, which I think a lot of potters don’t really consider. Especially in Athens, it’s more about festivals, fairs and craft shows. In that arena, I do ok, but I don’t feel like that’s my forte. So my wholesale background has helped me learn how to promote my line, contact buyers and sell it in that way. Having the store helped me understand what retailers are looking for and how they want to be communicated with. Because I was a buyer and was stocking my store, I understand both sides of the coin, and I think that is helpful.
You are originally from Philadelphia, what was the reason for the big move down to Athens?
My fiancé. He lived here, he went to school here for college and stayed a little after that and then left Athens and then moved around the country a bit. We met while he lived in Philadelphia. After that he eventually ended up back in Athens. After visiting him here to see what all the fuss was about, I was pretty much immediately charmed.
Has living in Athens changed your style in anyway? Whether with ceramics or your other creative endeavors?
That’s a good question. I guess living here has made me more laid back and simplified a lot of things in my life, so my work reflects that. Since I’ve been working here at the new studio, in my own space, my work has become more streamlined. I tend to use a lot of white glaze and keep things pretty clean and simple. I like the natural clay to show through and just have some more earth tones as accents.
When did you know that Forged and Found could be a business?
I’m still learning that. Its not completely paying the bills but it’s sustaining my work and time at the studio. When I moved into this space, that was my goal, to be able to at least sustain myself in my own studio space, which I’ve achieved. My next goal is to make this more of a business that sustains me and turn pottery into my livelihood.
It seems like you’re doing pretty well.
It is good! It’s getting better all the time. I only started doing the wholesale line about a year ago and I’m impressed with how far that’s gone in that time. But I think that there’s room to grow with it, and I hope in another year that it at least doubles.
Have you learned anything new (personal, creative, business) from starting Forged and Found?
The main thing that I’ve learned from all of my business ventures is that I am very glad that I’ve attempted these things. I never have had any regrets about going for it. And even though I’ve had two major businesses behind me that basically failed, that’s ok with me. I don’t focus on failure. Instead, for me, its just another goal met. I think you can grow from those experiences. I am open to changing, growing and evolving. Who knows where this is going to take me?
Do you have any advice for would-be makers or people thinking about taking the next step?
Just do it. Don’t waste anytime thinking about it. And do it because you love doing it. I am not doing this necessarily to make money. It makes me so happy that I can afford to have a space to create but beyond that it doesn’t matter so much to me that I’m having some kind of income from this because this is what I want to spend time doing during the day and that means a lot to me. I always felt that way with all my little hobby/arts and craft projects and even selling vintage. Do what you love doing. Focus on figuring out a way that you can make time to do what makes you happy.
Fun Question: What are your favorite places in town?
Number one, I have to mention the Old Pal because that’s my fiancé’s bar and I love it there. I may be totally partial but I’m so proud with what he’s done with that space and just the way it looks and feels in there and the drinks are great. I love Seabear, 5&10, and The National. I love that Cine is here, that there’s a tiny art house movie theater in this town, it means so much to me. I love that Good Dirt is here, I’m really appreciative of the experience that I had there and I would recommend it to anyone. Since I moved to Athens, I’ve been completely charmed by walking around town, I love the houses and all the little neighborhoods. That is something that immediately appealed to me and makes me want to stay here for awhile.