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‘It’s the cowboy in my blood’: Local potter shares the start of her business

Debra Murray
Previous cauldron mugs rest in a cabinet in her studio in her kitchen. Each mug was created by Hope Waters, potter of Big Nose Clay, in Bowling Green.

To Hope Waters, her love of mud was evident in her childhood as documented on an old family video of her sitting on a pile of dirt.

“There’s an old family video of me as a baby at my brother’s baseball game, sitting on a pile of dirt,” Hope said. “My dad laughs behind the camera as I dig away into the earth. Thirty years later, I’m proud to say I’m still barefoot outside, playing with mud and turning it into charming ceramics.”

Waters is now a local potter making mugs and cups out of her home in downtown Bowling Green. She sells her pottery through her website and local events.

Two years ago, Hope took a ceramic class and was an “absolute nightmare” on the wheel. After, she self taught herself how to create bowls and cups using her hands.

“I decided to stop dreaming and start trying,” she said. “I’d never sold a piece of work until December of 2022, where I listed a handful of winter mugs inspired by my friend Laura’s hometown Ketchikan. They sold within hours and I was giddy to create more.”

During December 2022, her cauldron mugs had received a lot of attention so Waters signed up for her first market at the local Community Farmers Market.

“Some customers had seen my Instagram, others were surprised that all my pieces were handmade,” Water said. “Because of this, I plan on making ceramics on site at my next event. After the market I gained more local supporters and started romanticizing the idea of my own small business.”

Hope Waters creates her to-go coffee cups called “pappy” cups in her home studio in Bowling Green. (Debra Murray)

Waters said she desired the freedom of working for herself, but she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

“I’m in charge of marketing, production,” she said. “I recently launched my website and it’s scary as hell. Chase your dreams but brace for the grind. I use Instagram to promote my work. When you start a small business, it’s no longer a hobby; it’s your life.”

Her most popular creation was inspired by her “pappy,” Wendle King, a “famous outlaw” from Stearns, Kentucky.

“I did a small series on Instagram documenting the process of making him his very own travel cup,” Waters explained. “It included a sketch of him wearing a cowboy hat, riding his horse. It’s definitely the most special thing I’ve made. After gifting it to him, I received countless messages about the cup, asking when they’d be for sale. Pappy Cup’s are now my signature product.”

Part of her inspiration for her storytelling through her ceramic pieces is from the childhood stories of her pappy’s, Waters said.

“My Pappy is a natural storyteller and I could listen to him talk for hours,” Waters said. “I like to think my ceramics tell stories through movement. Carvings and illustrations, fingerprints on the surface of a mug; clay holds memories and a piece of me is infused in everything I create.”

Now, her studio is a corner of her kitchen, and her supplies rest in her grandmother’s cabinet that has been in her family for generations. Each day, she starts her morning with a coffee from Spencer’s Coffee downtown and gets to work alongside her “pawtery assistant,” Pippin.

“To put it lightly, she saved my life,” Waters said. “Behind the scenes you can find her sunbathing, gathering sticks, and sniff testing all Big Nose Clay products. Pippin hairs cling to clay and get burned off in the kiln, but her love is permanent with every finished piece of pottery.”

From start to finish, the whole process can take up to three to four weeks.

“It takes four days to build a piece, and that includes trimming, attaching handles, painting. Then there’s drying,” Waters said. “You want to slow dry everything. This gives your piece a better chance at surviving. My work goes through two kiln fires; a bisque and a glaze. And I use a community kiln that fires once a week. Considering this, it can be 3/4 weeks to finish altogether.”

She runs an Instagram account – or her “muddy diary” – @bignoseclay, where she posts “day in my life” vlogs and updates her pottery journey.

“Over time I slowly found comfort in filming small moments and simply learning to romanticize everything (even if I spend a lot of my time at home),” she said. “I’m a bit of an enigma; I guess it’s the cowboy in my blood. I used to think I didn’t have anything really exciting or valuable to share online but connecting with everyone through my videos has genuinely made me feel less alone.”

Most recently, Waters has been working on her Spring collection – a number of whimsical pieces, fairies and more.

“At the end of the day, I’m just a gal growing her wings,” she said.

Reporter Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on X @debramurrayy.

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