‚ÄúI couldn‚Äôt find any work and I needed a source of income,‚ÄĚ Brad Dodson said.
Owner of Mud Dabbers ceramics and pottery studio in Balsam, the 45-year-old grew up in an artistic family. Raised in Columbus, Ga., Dodson‚Äôs father was a lifelong potter who made and sold his work around the area. In the 1980s, the elder Dodson moved to Brevard and opened the original Mud Dabbers (currently owned by Brad‚Äôs brother). After graduating from Mars Hill College with a degree in health and education, Brad, now married, had to find a steady paycheck.
‚ÄúBeing a potter was initially a ‚ÄėPlan B‚Äô for me, with the original plan to teach and maybe work in pottery during summer vacations,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúBut, I got out of school, my wife headed to graduate school, and I needed work, so I started making pottery pieces in my garage and selling them.‚ÄĚ
Dodson decided to enroll in nearby Haywood Community College, which boasts a nationally acclaimed crafts program that not only nurtures natural talent but also teaches its students how to design and run a studio and the necessary marketing skills to be able to make a living while creating.
‚ÄúI had an advantage over the other students in that I knew, from my father and from my own experience, that you could make a living doing this, and I had a good grasp of knowing what your market wanted,‚ÄĚ he said.
Once out of HCC, Dodson began searching for the ideal location for his business. He eventually came across an old residence ready for a new opportunity. He took out a loan, refurbished the building into a ceramic and pottery studio, and readied himself for opening day.
‚ÄúI was nervous that first day, and just like a new business, normally whatever you plan is the opposite of what happens,‚ÄĚ he laughed. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been hard, with a lot of ups and downs. What‚Äôs amazing is a lot of things I thought would be good sellers weren‚Äôt and things I didn‚Äôt expect to sell became very popular.‚ÄĚ
Dodson is constantly mulling over ideas for items and long-term projects. Lately, he‚Äôs been focusing on garden pieces and functional products, like dinner bowls and food dishes. He‚Äôs knows what his customers are looking for, and he‚Äôll make what they desire, whether they‚Äôre passing through town on vacation or picking up a gift on their way home.
‚ÄúI have to balance my creativity with what the business needs. I need that artistic time, but I also like to pay my rent, so I‚Äôm going to make things you‚Äôll want in your house or garden,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt can be hard with the artistic desire I have, but I do take opportunities to have a few hours to dedicate to a personal project or special idea.‚ÄĚ
On a good year, Dodson will find himself ordering upwards of 15 tons of clay. The business is steady, with a constant stream of return customers and curious visitors alike.
‚ÄúIf you have a desire to create and a passion, people will see it in your work,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs great to be able to own your own business and be able to do this, but be prepared to do work, a lot of it, and it‚Äôs been worth it.‚ÄĚ
Dodson recently discovered his ancestors were crafters in Southern Appalachia. For him, it‚Äôs an incredible feeling being able to continue in the traditions and heritage of his forefathers. Living in Western North Carolina has provided him with a great life, one he‚Äôs happy to be part of and participate in.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm part of these traditions. It‚Äôs always been here, and folks visit these mountains knowing the Appalachian culture and its self-reliance,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúPeople here make things with their hands, whether it‚Äôs woodworking, clay or metal. A lot of it has purpose, and they would sometimes tweak a piece to make it personal, to give it that loving touch.‚ÄĚ
And 16 years later, Dodson is just as passionate for Mud Dabbers as day one. It‚Äôs been a long road, but a bountiful one. Bringing into the fold other artisans, including a basket weaver and woodworker, he‚Äôs excited to showcase the intricate talents of Haywood County‚Äôs finest crafters.
‚ÄúThe biggest key to this business is having a community connection,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWhen people come and find something here they want a connection, whether physically or emotionally, to a piece they have from their experience in Western North Carolina.‚ÄĚ