Melanie Shaw: The Five Question Interview

Melanie Shaw is maker/owner at Melanie Shaw Cermaics. Her favorite themes are floral and leaf patterns, space travel, comic figures, and occasional monsters. She is also owner of Art Off Center, a ceramics teaching studio in nearby Taylor, Texas.

Her Oklahoma grandmother taught Melanie and her siblings to crochet, knit, embroider, bead, and sew. She recalls stitching strips of cloth onto newspaper squares to start some simple blocks for quilts that they all went home with at the end of summer. She find myself using all these skills with her applied art pieces.

1. Why did you move to the Bastrop area? 

We decided to move to Texas in 2014 from Brooklyn; my daughter and family moved to east Texas a couple years before we did. Hubs is in the music business, so we basically moved down and just started looking for houses that suited our purposes in and around Austin. Having always lived in really busy and noisy neighborhoods in New York and Brooklyn, the house in Bastrop checked a lot of boxes. The neighborhood is lovely, quiet and we both had enough room in the house and yard to set up individual studios and still be close enough to Austin to travel in for shows, etc. 

2. What compels you to spend time creating?

I teach pottery at my commercial studio, Art Off Center (www.artoffcenter.com) in Taylor, so I’m often looking for new items to push my skill levels and additionally for items that are fun to teach. I have a mental list of items to make, so making and creating have become a part of my everyday life. I’ve learned that once the floodgate was opened to creating it’s become a complete love of craft.

3. Tell me three things you’ve learned in the past five years.

I’ve learned a lot over the past five years, especially after buying Art Off Center three years ago. I’ve learned how to craft a website that works for a small business. In the same regard, I’m still learning about marketing and public messaging. For me it’s all about how the studio fits into the local community and how the community has taught me how to engage.  We “volunteer” to help where and when we (I’m referring to myself and the fellow artists at Art Off Center) can for various purposes.

4. What are you currently making, reading, watching, or listening to?

I’ve usually got a few projects in progress, so I’m currently working on making items that are meant for a wholesale line. Hubs and I have been trying to avoid the news lately, so we’ve been watching a lot of “making” shows, like the “Repair Shop” or just dive off into sci-fi style shows like “Mandalorian”.  I’m a news junkie, so I listen to NPR and various news shows on my work days back and forth from Bastrop to Taylor. And for books, I’ve been listening to audible books by Ta-Nehisi Coates and James Baldwin and have the occasional new release books from my favorite pottery authors too.

5. Cake or Pie?

I’m definitely a pie person, I’m terrible at making pies, but I just love the filling versus the lovely crunch of the pie crust. I’m a huge fan of tart versus sweet, so Key lime pie is my favorite pies. One of the local Taylor chefs recently started a great online pie service with delivery, Flake Bakery and Larder, so I ordered her great pies for the holidays and supporting local business at the same time! Win, win!

Instagram @melanieshawceramics
Esty Shop
www.artoffcenter.com


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Sarah Graham: The Five Question Interview

Sarah Graham is an educator, yoga teacher, herbalist, beekeeper, and gardening enthusiast. She owns SHAMBA Farm which is an acronym for Sustainable Homestead and Microclimate Based Agriculture. Her kitchen is the creative heart of her home. She sells her handmade herbal medicine, salves, eggs, honey, and fresh herbs at the Elgin Farmers’ Market, her website, and at various pop up markets in Elgin.

Sarah lives on her farm in a straw bale home (which she built herself) with her adorable daughters, some goats, chickens, and working dogs.

1. Why did you move to Elgin? 

I had been looking at houses in Austin, and realized that I wanted more space. On the drive out to Elgin, I thought “this is 10 minutes too far”. But the moment I set foot on my land, I knew I had found my place. I bought it a couple of months later, built a house, and moved out here in August of 2009. I moved here for the small town feel and beautiful views. Elgin’s history is rooted in agriculture, and I wanted to be a part of the sustainable agriculture movement blossoming here. I had a gut feeling that I would find a community, and the one that I’ve found is more beautiful and supportive than I could have ever imagined.

2. What compels you to spend time creating?

As a new mom, I was too exhausted to create, but as my daughter got older and she started coloring and painting, I realized how much fun it was to spend time making messes with her. I saw the value in creativity, and allowed myself to spend time creating and experimenting in the kitchen. During my divorce, I found that growing plants and using them in the kitchen for food and bath products gave me much needed creative expression. I’ve always dabbled in various crafts, such as sewing and beading, but the kitchen is my main creative space. It’s the heart of any home, and for me cooking and canning combine my background in science with a love of plants and fresh, flavorful food. Experimenting with new recipes for herbal concoctions keeps things exciting and my creativity fueled. I’m always growing new plants, so I get to try new ways of extracting their flavors and medicinal qualities. It helps me cultivate a deeper relationship with nature and an intimacy with my land, which is my ultimate goal. 

3. Tell me three things you’ve learned in the past five years.

1. We are human beings, not human doings. In other words, do less, and be more. Cultivating quiet space helps ideas and inspiration to flow.

2. Mistakes are learning opportunities. How can we learn if we don’t fail? Failure is an essential part of growth.

3. I honor my boundaries by truly considering opportunities before I say “yes” or no”. This allows me to fully commit to my obligations and not overload myself. It helps me avoid over-commitment.

4. What are you currently making, reading, watching, or listening to?

I’ve been experimenting with soy candles lately which has been great fun! I’m planning for the new things I will grow in the spring and for my 50 fruit trees arriving this winter. I’ve got a couple of fun ideas to change up my market stand using materials found on my land. I always have more ideas than time! I recently listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast and it was incredibly inspirational. She’s all about cultivating creativity. Also, I am re-watching Game of Thrones (thanks COVID!). I find the fantasy so compelling, as it’s the creation of an entire world and really whisks me away.

5. Cake or Pie?

BOTH! Cake for birthdays, pies for holidays.Pie, because pie is love. And it goes better with vintage country music.

SHAMBA website www.shambatx.com
Instagram @shambafarm


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