The Right Turn
Couple sculpts a career in beautiful tandem
Ann Batton’s devotion to clay started with a detour. In 1996, she was a young marketing student at East Tennessee State University, studying statistics, charts, and PowerPoint presentations — until she took a wrong turn on her way to class and discovered the ceramics studio.
“There really was a moment that I fell in love with pottery,” Ann says. “I kind of knew I was in the wrong room, but I was just being defiant.”
That independent spirit brought Ann to Asheville after graduation, where she met her husband, Sandy Batton. The husband-and-wife team are now the driving force behind Batton Clayworks, a small pottery studio that specializes in whimsical mugs and vases, as well as elegant sculptural pieces.
Sandy worked as a landscaper when he met Ann, but yearned for a change. Ann was working for Mangum Pottery in Weaverville, and Sandy would stop by to keep her company in the evenings. Soon Sandy was eager to try it himself.
“She would work late, so I’d come by just to spend time,” Sandy says. “If you’re in a pottery studio, you’re going to play with clay.”
Sandy was a quick study, Ann says, and soon Batton Clayworks was born. After months of planning and a wildly successful weekend at a Biltmore Village craft show, Ann and Sandy left their full-time jobs to venture out on their own.
They have a deep respect for traditional pottery, but they also like to experiment with unusual colors and textures. Each piece is made by hand, harkening back to old-world methods — with a modern twist. Bright baubles and fanciful adornments abound.
“I think we’ve always ended up kind of twisting the boundaries a little bit as far as what’s traditional and what’s more contemporary,” Ann says.
Sandy specializes in large sculptural pieces and often uses a slab-building technique. He feeds the clay through a slab roller, which looks a bit like a pasta maker for clay, and then uses paper templates to cut out and assemble the shapes by hand. The results are spectacularly unique works on a large scale.
Ann gravitates toward the wheel and enjoys making batches of mugs and vases. Their early work features blazing oranges and yellows, although they say they’re slowly moving to deeper blues and browns.
Sandy and Ann’s home studio in Kenilworth is a haven for their work and the epicenter of a joyful family life. They work in harmony, but that doesn’t mean that pursuing art and owning a business together is always easy. Ann says that giving and taking constructive criticism is especially difficult when you work with your spouse.
“I think that’s the hardest to take from your closest partner,” Ann says. “We try to really nurture each other as much as possible, and try not to step on each other’s toes too much.”
Sandy jumps in to say that they’re each other’s “built-in quality control.”
Ann laughs and quips, “Once you get on each other’s toes, it’s not pretty. We’ll be honest: It’s not all hunky-dory all the time.”
But the couple’s bright eyes and easy laughter point to a deeply collaborative relationship. “I’ve come to the conclusion that we both make everything,” Ann explains. “We both have our hands on every single piece at one time or another.”
Ann’s background in marketing and business has proven useful for Batton Clayworks. She keeps up the business’ Facebook page, which shows off their new work, custom pieces, and the adventures of their cat, Coconut. She says that social media connects them with their clients on a daily basis.
“Even though our customers may not be seeing us every day out in the streets or in the studio, they know what we’re up to.”
Batton Clayworks also has a thriving Pinterest account with over 1,000 pins, allowing Ann to hone her eye for design. “There’s an artistic element to laying things out and to learning the visual impact of what something is going to have,” Ann explains.
Sandy and Ann’s two children — eight-year-old Maddi and six-year-old Simon — are drawn to their parents’ home studio. Simon is fascinated by caves and vehicles; his latest masterpiece is a small five-wheeled ceramic car. Maddi prefers the wheel, although one of her most stunning pieces is a tiny handcrafted octopus. Ann and Sandy encourage their children’s creativity, which in turn fuels their own work with Batton Clayworks.
“We have ideas between the two of us that are going to last us a lifetime,” Ann says. “We keep coming up with things and experimenting and pushing the boundaries.”