Studio T/M Ceramics and Pottery

Clay, Community, and Creativity: A Conversation with Sara Truman of Studio T/M Pottery and Clay


Meet Sara Truman, the co-founder of Studio T/M Pottery and Clay, a thriving ceramic studio that has evolved into a vibrant community hub over the past seven years. What started as a personal studio for Sara and her wife, Naomi Mostkoff, has blossomed into a space that offers classes, workshops, and studio memberships to pottery enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. Join us as we delve into Sara’s story and explore the unique atmosphere and offerings of Studio T/M Pottery and Clay!

Please introduce yourself and your pottery studio. What inspired you to start a pottery studio?

My name is Sara Truman and my wife (Naomi Mostkoff) and I started Studio T/M Pottery and Clay over seven years ago as our personal ceramic studio. Initially, it was a place for us to make, fire, and sell our work. As the studio developed over the years, we’ve added studio assistant positions and even rented studio space to different folks from the community. After Covid, I decided to shift my focus to the studio and fill a need in our community for community ceramic classes. I left my position as a ceramic teacher at a Title 1 public high school and began teaching classes out of the studio. Over the last 3 years, we’ve grown from a 850 sq ft building with 9 classes a week, to a 5,000 sq ft facility with 18 classes a week, as well as 50+ studio members, 5 semi-private studio spaces and a staff of 13 people.

How did you first get into pottery, and what sparked your passion for working with clay? Can you share a bit about your artistic journey and the evolution of your pottery skills?

I took my first ceramics class in college to fulfill my 3D requirement for my painting degree. It was the first time I felt like I was really bad at something. I continued taking ceramics and postponed my graduation another year and a half to fulfill the requirements for the ceramics degree as well. After that, I took a post-bacc year at the University of Florida to prepare my portfolio for graduate school. I then went to the University of Mississippi to complete my MFA in Ceramics in 2012. I chose Ole Miss for my MFA so that I could really explore all firing temperatures and clay types, as well as learn to fix and build most anything in ceramics that I would possibly want to be able to do. This education in this old school way of learning ceramics that I feel like isn’t done by many programs anymore has truly served me well. Since then I’ve done residencies, worked at two different universities, and a title 1 high school while maintaining my studio practice as well. I have national gallery representation, have shown in about every major juried show there is, as well as curated shows for galleries. I’ve taught workshops in person at universities as well as online, and written about my work as well as having my work written about and published. Over the years I have made 1000’s of pots, and continued to challenge myself in both form and surface. For me, it was a non-negotiable to not have a studio. I’ve never been without one since I left undergrad, even if it was a wheel on the porch and a shelf in the kitchen to hold wet pots. I’ve never stopped making, or learning. At this point my forms are muscle memory, and it’s very easy to get into the flow of making. While running the studio I rarely go a week or two without making.

What does it take to run a successful pottery studio? Any challenges you’ve faced along the way?

Running a successful pottery studio requires the ability to multitask, manage staff, and know when to delegate. We maintain an active social media presence, are active in our local community makers markets, and are constantly planning months ahead to keep up with our calendar. Knowledge of clay, glaze, and kilns is crucial, as well as the desire to share and grow my love of ceramics with my local community. I feel like my years in all these different levels of studios, from my undergrad education all the way to residency in community studios greatly prepared me for what I do everyday. It’s not always about the clay, instead it tends towards troubleshooting schedules, fixing broken things, and maintaining our relationship with our studio members and other local artists. We’ve developed our business and community relationships so that we now serve as their material suppliers or as a space where they fire their work. I also spent years preparing to open this studio expansion and knew what I wanted the experience to be like, and I have to say we’ve been extremely fortunate.

The last thing I will say about the challenges is the financials of running a successful studio. I’m part of several online groups on FB and have started doing some business coaching for a few studios across the country. What I see the most is owners who do everything, don’t charge appropriately, and operate at a loss and face burnout. I’m an avid business podcast listener, and one of my first takeaways from those podcasts and social media following was to pay people for the things I don’t enjoy doing, so I can focus on the things that bring us to our next goal. I have spreadsheets on spreadsheets for projections, budgets assembled by folks that actually know how to do a budget correctly, and it relieves so much stress. Trusting in your process and your people is crucial to your sanity doing this as a career. There’s busy seasons and slow seasons, and figuring out how to offset that time with financial planning so you aren’t sweating or going into a significant amount of debt can make sure you sleep at night. As we expanded to this size, there were a lot of growing pains. I’m happy to say that most if not all we could see coming and were able to take on without repercussions for our future selves.

Could you describe the range of classes and workshops offered at your studio? 

We offer classes for all ages, and all skill levels. Our Intro to Wheel 1 and 2 are an in depth 6-week course designed to walk our students through how to throw starting with centering, opening, and pulling walls. We also offer classes for intermediate levels which focus on skills like trimming, making mugs, or large pots. We offer multiple levels of handbuilding as well, from just learning the basics of pinch, coil, and slab, to building large sculptures. Our kids classes work with both elementary and teenage children during the week after school, and many have become proficient potters (and some of them now work here!). We focus our Saturday morning events towards pre-K kids and their family, so they can all do clay together. Additionally, we do one off events on Fridays and Saturdays to give people a taste of ceramic making called Sip n’ Spin which we consider pottery happy hour. We have hosted several workshops over the years; our first ever was Linda Arbuckle, and she did a weekend long surface workshop with Majolica that was incredible. Most recently we had Osa Atoe here for a coil building workshop in traditional Nigerian techniques that we then covered in terra sigillata. We love the variety of skills that our community is able to absorb through these incredible experiences. 

What teaching methods or approaches do you find most effective in helping students learn pottery?

Hands on learning! All our students get ample time to try for themselves, throwing, crashing and trying again. Repetition and not holding things precious are key to growth, and learning to accept failure. We want them to push the material to its limits to understand what the clay and they are capable of each time. Our teachers intentionally start class with a demonstration and then allow students to attempt on their own, with guidance available along the way. We love the “ah-ha” moments in making, and it never gets old no matter the age or level of maker. 

How do you create a welcoming and creative environment for your studio members? What makes your pottery studio unique in terms of atmosphere and community?

Our studio environment is a combination of our wonderful students, members, work-trade members and our employees. We stress to those who work for us that being here is a privilege we don’t take lightly and we want to exist with one another in this space with nothing but joy! Our best day is when we get to be here together, because we built it together. That intensity for the community we have built is extremely contagious. The members feel it, as do students and folks that come into the space. That encourages more people to want to be here from their stories. We chose our employee family wisely, and are thrilled everyday they choose us. In a time where places can’t find employees and when local businesses are going under from competing with big box stores and debt, we feel like we’ve won the lottery to do what we do and have people that want to do it with us. 

Studio T/M Pottery and Ceramics

How has your pottery studio evolved since its opening? Any significant changes or expansions?

Yes! Last summer we experienced a huge expansion as we moved into our custom built 5,000 sq ft facility. This brought with it a lot of the expected stress and change that growth causes. We went from a staff of 5 to a staff of 13, and went from no space to membership to 50+ members. We’re just getting started. In the future we intended to start a short-term and long-term residency, as well as expand to multiple locations in the state. 

What are some of the most rewarding moments or achievements in your pottery journey so far?

We have 2 small kids, and seeing them run into the studio so excited to be here, and the staff so excited to see them is just beyond measure. They get to grow up in a community of love and support their moms created, and we feel like that’s a pretty important part of their life we get to share. The reaction of our staff and members and former students walking into the space once it was finished was very overwhelming. Several were in tears and brought other friends to see our space once it was open, and after the stress of moving and getting our occupancy with the city, turning on the electricity the first time, it was crazy rewarding to see their reaction! One of the most flattering experiences of my life. Our grand opening was pretty special as well, we had a huge party with a DJ and food trucks, and several media outlets came. People I had worked with previously at the high school and in our community, our families came from all over, and to share that with our staff who had worked so hard with me to get us here was immeasurable. I think I cried for a week before from stress and a week after from pure joy.

As far as my personal journey in ceramics, the first time I was ever in the Ceramics Monthly Exposure section was a moment I’ll never forget. That first one being unexpected was amazing. I was selected as a CM Emerging Artist in 2019, and then had my first NCECA group show that same year. The first time I wrote for Ceramics Monthly and was published felt like a milestone I had really dreamed about as an undergrad digging through old ones in my professor’s office. A few years ago, my recipes were published in the back of the magazine, and my undergrad professor’s were below mine. He sent me a photo of the page before I had seen it that said, “honored to share this page with you”. That was extremely flattering to receive, I wasn’t at the top of my clay class, I was at the bottom. From my class of about 10 major students in undergrad only 2 of us received MFA’s and I’m the only one still making. Where you are in the group doesn’t matter if you’re the one with the drive and want to keep going. 

Any future goals or projects you’re excited about for your studio?

This is our first full year in our new space, and we’re already expanding. We’re adding more wheels to the classroom, more classes to the schedule, and more camps to our summer programming. We couldn’t be more excited about our growth and our new staff we just added. We have some big goals set for this year and I feel like we’re putting the pieces in place to achieve them. Our biggest project will be starting to plan our second location an hour south of us. I can’t say much about it yet, but I can say it’s in the works. 

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to start their journey in pottery?

The best advice I can give a new potter, is whatever age you start your pottery journey is your beginning. Be kind with yourself, enjoy the failures in the beginnings because those lead to the biggest growth in the future. And most of all, whatever pace you learn at is yours, and focus on your growth not who may be sitting across from you. Repetition is the only solution to growing in clay, keep making, ask for help when you need it, and absorb all the information around you like a sponge! Your best education in clay is the community you work within. Find one where you feel safe, supported, and part of the community! 

Truman White Whiskey Set

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about your pottery studio or your personal journey in pottery?

I’ve just reached my first 20 year mark in ceramics, and I have to say, I love it more now than ever. I’m a HUGE ceramics FAN, of the people who do it at the professional level all the way down to the beginner. I love watching my kids at the wheel as well as my favorite ceramics super hero maker. If there’s someone you want to know in this field, reach out to them. Tell them you love their work, and most likely they will respond. Clay is one big family that I am so absolutely thrilled to be a part of today. I love to talk about ceramics and the business of clay, whether as a maker or studio owner, so I’m always open to talking about it.


4 responses to “Clay, Community, and Creativity: A Conversation with Sara Truman of Studio T/M Pottery and Clay”

  1. Jack manfredi Avatar
    Jack manfredi

    Heck yeah! The whole studio tm staff is incredible! Gainesville is a better place because of the joy that ceramics brings

    1. Shannon Colson Avatar
      Shannon Colson

      Definitely! We loved hearing about the studio from Sara, and we will definitely check it out the next time we’re in Gainesville 🙂

  2. Anthony S. Avatar
    Anthony S.

    Love love love these guys!

  3. Carolyn Ellis Avatar
    Carolyn Ellis

    What a beautiful piece that resonates with everything you are and are becoming, Sara and Na! All the love!

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