If you drive down Route 50 and see that Ballston Lake Pottery has disappeared, don’t be alarmed. It’s only for a few months.
Artist Jim Sankowski, who has worked at his pottery wheel in the building since 1975, isn’t going anywhere. He’s just building a new studio and showroom and installing a new kiln.
In June, the old building, a former garage and sign shop, will be removed. Construction will continue into October, and sometime after Nov. 1, when the artist will celebrate his 40th year at the site, he hopes to hold a grand reopening.
Sankowski creates high-fired porcelain pottery that is both functional and decorative. In a sunlight-filled showroom in front of the studio, visitors admire and buy his handmade dishes, casseroles, mugs, bowls, lamps, vases and teapots.
In our region, Sankowski has been invited to show his work at the “Made in New York” exhibit at the Cooperstown Art Association; Lapham Gallery at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, and the Northeast Fine Crafts Exhibit in Schenectady.
Over the years, he has also shown his pottery at many art and crafts festivals, including the Saint Louis Art Fair, the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., and 100 American Craftsmen in Lockport, New York.
Sankowski, who is 66, graduated from Burnt Hills High School and went to Central College in Iowa, and then to Bowling Green State University, where he received a MFA in ceramic art.
He and his wife, Mary Beth, a retired Burnt Hills High School English teacher, have two grown sons: Brian, a telecommunications engineer who lives in Malta, and Adam, a music therapist in Boston.
When Sankowski isn’t seated at his potter’s wheel, he likes to wheel around Ballston Lake on a bicycle.
He talked to The Sunday Gazette on April 28 in his studio:
Q: The project starts soon. What’s going to happen?
A: This building is going to be completely replaced. I’ll salvage certain things out of it . . . the large plate-glass window in the front . . . and then it will be demolished.
Q: Is the building in bad shape?
A: This has really deteriorated. The outside is rotting out. The roof needs replacing. It’s an energy sieve.
Q: What will the new building look like?
A: Siding and stone on the front, it will look better as a shop. (A drawing is posted on Facebook)
Q: Are you keeping the sign?
A: Yes, at the present time. I may change it down the road. It’s been there 35 years.
Q: Why are you doing this?
A: I still want to make pots and I can’t envision myself working here 10 years, perhaps 20 years. I can’t stop my ceramic work yet, my journey would be incomplete. I feel that there are still more directions for me to explore and more for me to learn. A new kiln and glaze area will allow for some new work and glazing techniques that I couldn’t do before. The new and larger showroom gallery will better serve and promote my retail business.
Q: How did you get started here?
A: I grew up in Glenville. I went to school in the Midwest. I decided not to go into education and to stay in the studio. We found this place, it was close by, right on Route 50.
Q: What was it like to be a potter in 1975?
A: It’s very difficult today to start off and do what I did. I hit the ground running. I went to some of the major shows and they were just mobbed with people from craft shops and buyers who wanted the work. There was an insatiable demand. I would go with a full load of pots and sell them in a weekend.
Q: Do you live near your studio?
A: Yes, right next door. It’s convenient. This business is odd, you work at all different odd times. There are always orders. The pots have to be finished, dried, then fired. We go out to a movie, my wife goes inside and I go over here because I still have to prepare something for the next day, until 11 or 12 o’clock at night.
Q: Do you get many visitors?
A: I have my customer base, people that come in all the time. I have more than 2,000 people on my mailing list. I have customers in Texas, California, a woman in Norway. Her sister-in-law lives in Niskayuna, so she comes here to visit and buys my work. She took two of my lamps back on the plane.
Q: What do people like about your work?
A: The quality is good. It’s not just art, I make something that’s durable.
Q: Do people hand your pieces down to their children?
A: Yes, they do. It’s interesting how I’ll have a 30-something woman come in here, and she’ll turn to her daughter and she’ll say ‘my mommy brought me in here when I was in Brownies.’
Q: Do you sell mostly out of your studio?
A: A lot of it. I do sell to a few shops. But a lot of them that did that 30, 40 years ago are out of business. You don’t see many craft shops around.
Q: Do you sell online?
A: I do, but not a lot. I have customers that find me, I’ll do a wedding registry. It’s a different world. The marketing is different. I sell my work all kinds of ways. Most of my selling is through the shop or people reach me through the shows that I do.