This tiny pottery business in Neenah, Wisconsin creates half a million custom handmade stoneware pieces a year!
There once was a time when everything in America was handmade. So in these days of cheap, mass production, it’s important to find small businesses still creating handcrafted goods. By supporting these artists, you’re giving yourself the gift of an original piece AND ensuring the survival of the small business that provides a way for craftspeople to pass down their talents and techniques to the next generation of makers. While we love introducing you to American makers, we love it even more when we collaborate with them to create new items exclusively for YOU!
We’ve enjoyed working with one small business in particular where no one is afraid to get a little dirty in the creation process. They’re making our new Antique Archaeology mugs. Let’s peak in as they cut some clay at Sunset Hill Stoneware!
Tom Dunsirn started Sunset Hill when he was just 21. The business was born in a rented space next to a tavern with a lease handwritten by the barkeep on a paper placemat. Tom had no particular pottery skills but he did have the brains to run a business. What originally began as him and a college friend has since grown into a team of about 60 who have created a local legacy over the last 20 years. And we aren’t the only fans of their stoneware! Other happy customers include the National Parks, Yuengling, L.L. Bean, Pink Floyd and many others!
Fast Facts About Sunset Hill:
- Every Sunset Hill Stoneware potter can pump out 150 mugs per day per person
- The average potter throws more than 45,000 mugs each year
- Each mug has the potter’s unique thumbprint pressed onto the base of the handle
- One ton of USA-sourced clay is used daily
- Sunset Hill products are 100% American-made from the clay to the glaze
- They operate on a paperless management system, recycle shipping materials, and installed a water separation system to remove manufacturing by-products. Go green!
- The pottery wheels they use were custom created by Tom’s engineer/inventor father and co-owner Duane
“We couldn’t buy the equipment necessary to withstand the high quantities we were cranking out so dad reinvented the wheel. Well… our pottery wheel,” explains Tom. “Imagine if NASCAR made a pottery wheel, that’s what our equipment is built like. While it Iooks familiar on the outside, on the inside are all sorts of special tricks and features that have helped us move fast and efficiently. In fact, our first pottery wheel was installed in 2009 and hasn’t had maintenance yet! ”
Duane even engineered the machinery and processes they use for the medallions on every single product!
Their master potter Jason has spent the last two decades perfecting the coloring chemistry for every piece of pottery. (Try to pick a favorite, we dare you!)
“There’s a delicate dance that takes place between the glaze and the firing temperature,” he explains. “When heated or cooled to a certain degree you can get different hues and speckles which can result in discovering new techniques for our customers.”
The most commonly asked question the company receives: “Are they really handmade one-by-one?”
Yes! Each piece of pottery is thrown to absolute perfection. Below, watch Duane’s engineered wheel in action as our new mugs take shape!
We’re honored to work with a shop that uses old world technique to transform a raw piece of clay into a beautiful functional work of art. Follow Sunset Hill on Instagram and Facebook to see what they’re creating next!