Columbus native Mollie Jenkins is a force.
When an artist is a steady presence of consistency, they quickly become a testament to what commitment and determination can produce. Jenkins is a great example of this. Though her contagious and endearing humility would never allow her to tell you that herself.
A graduate of Auburn University, Jenkins majored in ceramics before moving to Nashville to begin her career as a ceramic artist specializing in functional work intended to be used for a lifetime.
After landing in Nashville, Jenkins opened Mollie Jenkins Pottery, a business that grew into a household name across the South after she was chosen by Garden & Gun as a runner-up for their 2017 Made in the South Awards.
She accomplished all of this before her 25th birthday, and has since returned home to continue her work and be nearer to family. Her modern take on traditional pieces caught the eye of designers and collectors quickly, and has provided her a way to be close to home while doing what she loves most.
We sat down with Jenkins in her studio last week as she prepared for Small Business Saturday and the start of the holiday season. Read on to discover more about her journey to becoming a potter, what she loves about working as an artist in Columbus, and what's next for her in 2019.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: It's not every day that you meet a ceramic artist, Mollie. What got you started?
A: I was born and raised in Columbus. I went to Brookstone, and I took a ceramics class my senior year of high school. I will say that the arts were never really my thing. I played sports, and we were taken out of P.E. for piano lessons, but it was just not my scene. So the fact I ended up in ceramics was really by happenstance.
I had seen people throw on the wheel, and I was interested in the forming of the pottery because it looked really cool. It just happened that I needed to take an arts class for credit, so I decided to take ceramics. Senior year in the spring semester I took ceramics and really loved it. To the point where I would schedule dentist appointments in every other class, but I would not miss ceramics. That’s when I knew something was up.
Sally Bradley was my teacher, and we did wheel throwing and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I didn’t think this would be my occupation. I mean, how many potters do you hear about in your daily life? So I went off to school at College of Charleston in South Carolina. It was a wonderful spot. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. They didn’t offer ceramics at the time. They had a bunch of art classes, so I went in taking some art classes and also exploring the idea of becoming a veterinarian. I love animals but I am terrible at science though. So needless to say, I didn’t become a vet. (laughing)
Q: What did you end up majoring in?
A: I went into school really not sure of what I was doing. I kept just coming back to the idea of wanting to take ceramics classes. So mid-way through freshman year, I decided I would transfer to somewhere that offered ceramics classes. I looked at Georgia and Auburn, and Auburn was just more convenient. My brother was there, and my family is here, so I ended up there.
I went to Auburn and went in as an art major. But as a bachelor of fine arts, you take all arts classes. That summer prior to going to Auburn, I had taken some ceramics classes at Britt David. That’s when I was like, “Okay. I really, really like this.”
I also had Teil (Duncan) and Lulie (Wallace) to look up to. They were already doing their thing as professional artists and it gave me the confidence to pursue an art degree fully. I went into my time at Auburn thinking that I wanted to throw pottery for the rest of my life.
It was really nice to see Lulie and Teil paving the way and showing young artists they could make it on their own. Growing up, you don’t hear people say, “Oh, they’re an artist.” Most of us just don’t really know people who’ve done it. Being able to watch them work and grow gave me the confidence I needed to do it myself.
Q: That's beautiful. How did you make it happen?
A: I took ceramics through the university and then joined a city studio. I was there any free time I had. So that’s where I feel like I learned the most. At the studio, I was out on my own and able to figure it out. Then, in class I was able to ask questions and be guided. It was great.
While I was in school, I did a few art shows through the city studio and thank goodness, all of my family came over and bought all of my stuff. It was so nice. It gave me the push I needed to see that I could make money selling my work.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in ceramics. I came back to Columbus for about six months or so. I had a small wheel, and was throwing pottery in our basement at home. I would take it over to Auburn to fire it. It was a huge pain. Then, some of my friends from here decided that they wanted to move away for awhile. We’ve all been friends for a very long time, so we decided to move away to a new city together. We ended up going to Nashville.
Q: Interesting. How many of you were there?
A: Three of us. We moved and found a house up there and then that’s when I was doing it full-time on my own.
Q: How was it? What was that like?
A: Fun. Wonderful. Challenging. I mean, I worked hard. But it was amazing. I kind of look back now and wonder how it even panned out, but it did. I’ve been very fortunate.
Q: Where did you work up there?
A: I joined a studio up in Nashville that was comprised of a bunch of woodworkers and metal workers. Needless to say, I stuck out a little bit. It was fun. It was a whole group of people I would have never come across any other way, so I loved that. I had a nice little nook of a studio. It was so small. Really, really small. I made it work. I had purchased a kiln so I had everything I needed right there. It was a little one. I just had it sitting right next to me where I worked.
Q: How did you make that work?
A: Looking back, it wasn’t the most ideal circumstance. But I made it work. The studio didn’t have heat or air, so I was either freezing or burning up. It definitely was character building and I just learned what the deal was.
Eventually, about half way through my stay in Nashville, we ended up moving studios. I went with a bunch of people from there, and it was a wonderful space. It felt very upgraded from my first space.
Q: How long were you in Nashville?
A: I was there about a year and a half. I moved back here because my dad isn’t well.
Q: I’m so sorry to hear that.
A: Thanks. It's okay. He was diagnosed with ALS right when I moved to Nashville. It was about a month after I had gone up there. I stayed up there until I felt like I needed to be home.
Q: I see. When did you come back?
A: I moved back here in September of last year. It’s been a wonderful move. I do not have a single complaint about it. I do miss Nashville, but Columbus has been amazing as far as support and family goes. And I’m with my dad and family. We are all here. My brother moved back as well.
Q: That is very, very sweet.
A: Yes. It’s been wonderful. If we don’t kill each other, it’ll be really nice. (Laughing) No, but it’s been fun. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Q: How did you find this beautiful studio space?
A: Murray Jones ended up with this space when I was moving back. I called him and asked him for a studio space. When I moved in, they weren’t done working on it. It has been amazing. It looks very different than it did when I got here. I love it here.
Q: How has your business changed since you returned home?