It wasn’t love of pottery that brought husband and wife team Wendy and Robert Esposito to Unity, Maine — it was just plain love. Pottery was a bonus.
If you’d approached either Esposito in their youth and said, “You’ll run your own pottery studio for thirty years” they probably would have laughed at you. Pottery wasn’t their dream or master plan. And yet, here they are: Unity Pond Pottery is celebrating its thirtieth year. It is their only income and they sent two daughters to college making pots.
“I knew nothing about pottery. Never owned a piece, never been to a craft show. But when we met, I just assumed we would work together,” Wendy says. “Now I love it.”
Nestled right off Bangor Road in Unity, the Espositos’ own and operate a production pottery studio, meaning they make a lot of the same styles over and over to sell wholesale. Every item is still made by hand, unique in its own way, and designed by the couple. But the two have established clients across the state who expect certain things year after year.
“And even though we make a lot of the same items over and over, we like making them. It’s still fun,” Wendy tells me. “We love working with our hands, so it doesn’t get tedious.”
As I wander the studio, Robert — better known as Espo — sits at his wheel throwing mug after mug after mug. His motions are confident and well-practiced. As with many experienced artists, Espo makes the whole process look simple. He even asks if I can conduct the interview while he works; winter is stockpiling season for the studio, so the more he can get done the better.
“The only thing that separates us is tons of clay. Anybody can do this, you’ve just got to put in the time,” he says. “Practice, practice, practice.”
Espo is celebrating his 44th year as a potter, but the quote “I knew nothing” is still applicable to his foray into the world of clay. Espo holds a bachelors in electrical engineering and was in graduate school at NYU when he got bit by the artist bug. He grew up in a family where art wasn’t big, and never took art classes in elementary, middle or high school. He’d obviously seen pottery, and even watched films of clay being thrown before he first sat down at the wheel, but the craft had never interested him. Until he saw it with his own eyes and felt the clay with his own hands.
“When I sat down it was like — okay. I want to master this, because this is ridiculous. The clay is in complete control when you start. You have no control,” he explains. “Just wrestling with it. Trying to make it something.”
Espo is “mostly” self taught. He first learned how to throw a pot at a friend’s studio, and spent around a year and a half working for him before heading off on his own. He’s modest, attributing his style to inspiration from other potters’ work he’s seen around the globe. But Wendy won’t let him give away all the credit. She tells me “one year helping a friend did not get him here.”
“I never ever thought I’d have my own studio. Because it’s too labor intensive,” he says in the midst of his mug production, sitting in the middle of his studio. The irony doesn’t escape him. He smiles to himself a bit and shakes his head.
I asked Wendy how she “got roped into this” and she laughed a bit. It honestly never crossed her mind once she’d met Espo that she wouldn’t help him run the studio. There’s a lot of work to do besides throwing pots: trimming them, glazing them, running the store, setting up clients, packaging, shipping. Besides that, Wendy likes to do handbuilding and carves designs into both her own work and the products that come off the wheel.
The two completely coexist in the space. They don’t just physically work next to each other; they collaborate on everything they do. They talk over all their designs, and Espo tries to make Wendy’s visions a reality on the wheel. Their work often melds together in vases, platters and beyond.
“It’s great to have that process where you can work so closely together,” Espo says.
“We’re 24/7,” Wendy tells me with a gesture towards him. “It’s fun. I’m glad. We get along well.”
Wendy and Robert Esposito