It was a broken heart that cracked and splintered, leaving Kimmy Rohrs wide open to mold a different life at the potter’s wheel. At 23-years-old, newly single, and working as a bookkeeper for a tech company in Annapolis, Kimmy followed a friend to her first pottery class.
“I freaking loved it. At that moment where everything felt bad and depressing as only the heartbreak of an early 20-something can— pottery felt so right,” said Kimmy. “I was terrible at it, but I kept taking the class. I loved it.”
Unbeknownst to her a few months later, her job would move her to Austin, Texas, where she would meet her now-husband, Aaron.
“That first year I was living in Austin was perfect. Aaron is an engineer, mechanic, and I was taking pottery classes and starting a relationship with someone who can build a kiln, run a kiln, and build a studio.”
In 2013, the Austin restaurant/coffee/bar scene was booming, and Kimmy was embracing all the nuances of a new town. After starting her Instagram account, friends who owned coffee shops began putting in orders. “I remember my first pieces I delivered to a coffee shop down the street, even my mom would have rejected those,” Kimmy laughed. “But I'm a pretty tenacious person. I stick with a thing and I’ve come a long way.”
Aaron and Kimmy’s life rapidly became focused on producing as much pottery after work as they could to keep up with the growing demand. Their side-hustle aptly named “Whiskey & Clay,” was a distillation of their lives outside of work, drinking whiskey and making pottery. “I can remember nights when I would just come straight home from work, go for a run, eat dinner, and then work until I got dizzy. Sometimes I would work myself so hard right up until bedtime. And that’s how we spent our weekends too.”
“We saw so much growth, it was wild,” said Kimmy. “We just were never able to keep up with the demand, and it was so fun. We were learning so much, we were growing. We were in love, just so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about everything.”
The duo built a website, and Aaron was running the kiln throughout the day. Their business continued to grow at a staggering rate, and they felt an ever-increasing desire to leave their full-time jobs to put everything into Whiskey & Clay. Austin was changing in those years as well, turning into the big city it is today, and they began to feel the itch to pick up stakes in 2017.
With budding relationships and connections pulling them towards New Mexico, it wasn't long before Kimmy and Aaron were headed northwest to Santa Fe. “It’s like a dream. We both quit our jobs and we just make pottery all day, every day. It's kinda incredible,” said Kimmy who in four short years after taking her first class was a full-time potter in Santa Fe.
While New Mexico is where they’ve put down roots, the majority of Kimmy’s inspiration is still found east of home in Terlingua, Texas, where they live part-time throughout the year. “It's this wonderful Chihuahua desert landscape and the ground is this beautiful, dark brown mixed with white and the mountains are all desert colors. I'm heavily inspired by the life and the beauty out there,” said Kimmy, who very early on as an artist decided she wanted her work to reflect the landscape she loved so much.
“I started blending and marbling light and dark colors. And it evolved into what it is now — a raw exterior of the colors of marbled porcelain with stoneware, it's really reminiscent of the earth out there. Two weeks ago, this sweet, older couple came in and the woman said, ‘I wanna let you know, I am a retired geologist and your pottery reminds me of the ground out in the Big Bend area that I used to study.’” Kimmy started to cry, that was exactly what she had been trying to convey with her art all this time.
Kimmy gets her clay from a manufacturer in Albuquerque called New Mexico Clay and blends stoneware with the “Cadillac'' of porcelain. According to the 32-year-old, as an artist, it's helpful to have an identifier that is uniform throughout your work but that allows you to grow. “My work has evolved into this windswept, desert feel that I don't intend on leaving.”
Despite being released from the rigidity of the nine-to-five schedule, Kimmy structures her day with as much discipline as before or perhaps even more. After starting the day with a mile swim at sunrise, she heads to the studio early. “I walk in and I'm so excited to get started for the day; to trim the pieces I made yesterday or to just start throwing. I have a production schedule for myself. Like today, for instance, I'm making 50 dinner plates and I have to attach handles on 65 mugs.”
She’ll spend the next three hours making pottery before she takes a break to eat, nap, go for a run, and then heads back to the studio for another five hours, often working into the evening. Her studio sits in a popular area of Santa Fe, with friends popping in and out most of the day, and when the clock strikes five or six it’s time to crack a beer or pour a little whiskey.
Despite Whiskey & Clay enjoying their attention full-time, they currently have a two-year waiting list on orders right now.
“I have a weird amount of job security with that, which is cool. I cannot believe people are down to wait, but honestly, the scarcity is just because I'm one person, I can't make that much. My husband Aaron does all of the firing, and all the kiln stuff for me as well.”
Whiskey & Clay may appear to be a one-woman show but a great deal of inspiration for Kimmy has come from her Mom.
“She's always there when I need her. She's in her late sixties and she's running ultramarathons almost monthly. She’s mega active, she works with kids and is just such a light for me,” explained Kimmy. “She doesn't let things limit her, like her age or her body slowing down. And I think that's always been an inspiration to me to not let things limit me as well. I can take that too far though, I can be a bit compulsive where maybe I should have a little better work-life balance.”
In a fast-paced and noisy world, it isn’t always easy for artists and creatives to stay motivated. There’s intentionality that’s required and a bit of introspection goes a long toward recognizing what fills you up for another day at the potter’s wheel.
“Swimming keeps me very inspired, and trail running out here in New Mexico. Those are two things that get me going for the day. I think physical exercise and physical movement is the cure for almost anything. When we're sedentary, our minds just go twisted,” said Kimmy. Aside from exercise, her friends and the local community of female makers in Santa Fe offer a much-needed source of ingenuity throughout the week, and she’s dreaming and scheming right along with them.
“My biggest dream would be to make a more permanent studio in Terlingua where I could also go and keep working. We're so backed up with orders here, that it's hard for me to leave Santa Fe,” Kimmy said. “Otherwise, I feel good. It's so crazy to step back and look at my dreams for 2022, I almost have it all. I have Aaron, my dream house, dream kiln, I'm really happy with my work, the design, and the way it looks.”
Nine years after her first pottery class, with multiple moves and endless hours in the studio, Kimmy’s dream is to continue what’s she’s doing now. It’s not often we can look around at the life we’ve built and see that we lack for nothing. And the best advice Kimmy can give to those wishing to follow her lead—build a routine.
“My biggest advice for artists is to create a routine and stick to it. Where I see a lot of other artists fail when they go full-time is not having a regimented schedule and not having a routine. You need that, not just for your mental health and stability, but for the persistence of your business. I think that's so important to have that. I don't even give myself the option to play hooky, and that’s made all the difference.”
Produced by: Modern Huntsman - @modernhuntsman
Story: Katie Hutton: @katie.marchetti.hutton
Photos: Wes Walker: @southwes & Natalie Rhea: @natalie_rhea