Rural Missouri - March 2013 - (Page 10)
Bethel couple responds to clay in a beautiful way
by Heather Berry
photos by Kyle Spradley
and Heather Berry
n 1990, St. Louis potters Joe Jostes and Sue Skinner saw an ad in
Ceramics Monthly magazine that
intrigued them. The historic German colony of Bethel was in need of
a town potter, so the duo made an
appointment to see what the northeast Missouri community had to offer.
After two visits, they knew Bethel was
to be the home of SJ Pottery.
“There was no salary, only the
glory of being the town potters,” says
Sue. “But the town graciously offered
us free studio space, an affordable
place to live and promotion of our
business. It was a good deal for us.”
For 25 years, this husband-and-wife
team has made its mark as creators of
traditionally inspired redware, mocha
and salt-glazed stoneware.
“At that point, we were pretty
much doing shows at historic reenactments, and since our business
was mainly based on travel, we knew
we could be located anywhere and do
what we do for a living,” she adds.
The couple’s foray into pottery
began at Florissant Valley Community
College. For Sue, who felt she was in a
dead-end job at the time, it was simple advice from her brother to “take
some classes you love.”
Five semesters later, clay was the
only consistent thread. Her brother
said, “I think you found what you
love, but I don’t know what you
would do with it.”
Joe, who already was working in
pottery at the time, just wanted to
Thanks to the combined artistic sefforts of Sue Skinner and Joe Jostes, SJ Pottery’s
re-created historical works are known across the country.
expand his knowledge. But the college
kept canceling the sculpting class he
wanted because nobody else signed
up. So he signed up for ceramics.
“I hated ceramics in high school.
But within a couple of weeks, I realized there was so much more to learn.
Joe places a sculpted clay vase into one of three kilns at SJ Pottery’s workshop in
Bethel. Joe and his wife, Sue, have collaborated on projects for 25 years, producing
re-creations of historical pottery designs and patterns.
It had chemistry, technology, math
and art,” Joe recalls, smiling. “So I
dropped all my other classes that
semester except ceramics and never
The married couple specializes in
creating simple, traditionally deco-
used in daily
life during the
from that time period, we feel
that our ware melds well with those
historical pieces and adds a fresh look
to traditional favorites,” says Sue.
While the couple works together
24/7, they have been able to keep
their artistic voices separate, collaborating only on a few styles of pottery.
“Joe has a saying that suits us well:
‘We can play in the same sandbox
but not on the same castle,’” says Sue,
laughing. “Our styles are similar, yet
different. It’s just the perfect balance
From tea bag holders to pie birds,
mugs to canisters and plates to pitchers, SJ Pottery offers a wide variety of
pottery to meet household needs.
“We like to think of our pieces
as art you can use daily,” says Sue.
“Around here, form follows function.”
Their redware, also known as terra
cotta, is a variety of earthenware made
of porous clay that turns red, orange
or brown when ﬁred. Once pieces are
thrown on a pottery wheel and airdried, most are decorated at what’s
called leather-hard stage. The pieces
are then glazed and reﬁred. Then, it’s
ready to pack up for stores or shows.
While Joe and Sue often paint
iconic historical patterns and designs
on their pottery, Sue enjoys adding
what’s called sgraﬁtto to many of the
Here, Sue uses a process called sgrafﬁto to scratch the foot of an eagle into a pitcher
design. She says items with patriotic themes always seem to be popular with buyers of
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2013
Rural Missouri - March 2013
Table of Contents
Musings in mud
The lure of tying flies
Out of the Way Eats
Queens of the court
Hearth and Home
All about mulch
Rural Missouri - March 2013