Episode One: " The Beginning": By Ruth Flores
" The Beginning"
When I was a kid growing up in a little apartment in Queens, New York, I loved ceramics so much, that I begged my Dad to make me a pottery wheel out of an old record turntable.
The pure magic of how you could turn a lowly lump of clay into a vessel (bowl) that could ring like a bell, never stopped thrilling me. (Maybe you didn't know; clay is made from microscopic flakes of stone weathered off the mountaintops, so when you heat it to volcanic temperatures it reforms into stone!)
In 1988, at the height of the AIDS crisis in New York, my partner and I, then both teachers, decided to move to Portland, Oregon to start a new life. As I loved ceramics, and he loved aquarium fish keeping, we decided to start an ceramic aquarium ornament business. At the time the only ornaments available for fish tanks, were a few small pieces imported from Japan and plastic bubbling treasure chests. It looked like we had a niche with plenty of room!
Before we realized we could sculpt the original and create plaster molds to create our ceramic copies for the market; I thought I could throw aquarium ornaments on my potter wheel (yes, I finally got one!). We built a stall and went to sell them at the Portland Saturday Market. They looked like little Buddhist Temples and were not a big success.
When I realized that I could make a very elaborate, detailed sculpture and then make a mold from it, I spent the next month sculpting what I thought was most needed by the market - a huge, magical, Mermaid Castle! It was 13" tall finished and the only thing like it on the market!
So we spent our income tax refund on a mold maker and set up shop in my father's garage, with one kiln, the size of a washing machine. For advertising we started sending product brochures to distributors around the country. Our first interest came from Lone Star distribution in Texas, and to our excitement and horror, he ordered 65 Mermaid Castles! Why were we horrified? The castle was so big we could only fit 4 in the kiln! Each piece had to be fired twice; and each firing took 24 hours,(the kiln has to reach 1800 degrees F, and then cool back down again for each firing), so it took us 2 days to make 4 of them! As brand new business owners, we did not want to tell them our capacity was so small, so we just kept sending him 8 at a time!! He was not happy.
That was 30 years ago, and we have found a new segment of the now crowded market, as the only major company working in Earth-Friendly Ceramic; making the always in demand, stackable, Underwater Galleries Cichlid Stone Kits, and our exclusive, glow-in-the-dark ceramic ornaments, like Moon Rocks and Moon Stones!
Come back soon for more
Underwater Galleries Chronicles: next up "The Plastic Wave"