Kara Thornton graduated from UNC in 2016 with a degree in Communications. What she didn't know at that time is that she would soon be operating her own business of handmade goods, right in her back yard. As someone who has long dealt with anxiety, especially during her undergraduate career, Kara has turned to ceramics and creative work out of both principle and passion. Her pottery studio has become her refuge and solace, a place where she can come and do exactly what she loves to do.
On this Friday afternoon in early September, Kara is completing an order for a client for over 10 small bowls, all uniform and identical in weight and appearance. Some days she can get bogged down by the pressure of filling and delivering orders for her work, but she keeps herself in check. "First off, I can’t not recognize that I have the privilege of doing [pottery] now," she said. "It’s definitely always been my dream to work with my hands and produce stuff for a living. It just makes me so happy, that how could I not do it?"
Building with her hands has tested Kara's patience, but it's also taught her to value the process and what can be gained through throwing pottery. "Even though it takes so much time, it’s not even about that," she said. "It’s about what it makes and how it changes you."
Throwing clay has also given Kara a greater appreciation for not only the creator, but also the consumer. It's made her aware of how difficult a business in handmade crafting can be to operate successfully in a culture that largely values mass production and expediency. "In a culture where convenience and buying more than you need is so perpetuated, it’s just cool to create appreciation for small, well-built, handmade things," she said. "Knowing the production behind it, and having some sense of that, I think is important."
Kara's company, Calvander Co., incorporates woodworking, candle making and pottery, with other crafts like leatherworking thrown in the mix. Launched in 2016, Calvander Co. has just recently made its home on Kara's friend's property, in a renovated shed.
Kara finds her work therapeutic. But sometimes, like when she receives orders for 20 mugs, she loses sight of the passion that drove her to pursue ceramics full-time.
“I still struggle with anxiety, even though now I’m in a very chill environment," she said. "I can do it, I know I can do it— but you have to remind yourself that you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing." Otherwise, she said, self-doubt creeps up. "It’s definitely a struggle to keep on top of that when you’re living your dream.”
Kara, though somewhat quiet in social environments where a majority of the people present are not friends or family, has an infectious optimism. On Sept. 9, a Sunday, Kara set up her table at the Bazaar, an event in Carrboro, N.C. that features a large handful of the community's craftspeople on a monthly basis. "I definitely strive for a home-y set-up," she said. "It's so rewarding when people come and start touching everything, because I'm such a tactile person and that comes through in my art and display."
Kara and her boyfriend Ben (immediately on her right) unwind at a local brewery or bar with friends and co-workers after a long day's work on Friday, Sept. 7. "I think Ben’s really helped me with [anxiety]," Kara said. "He doesn’t have an anxiety problem, and seeing that from afar is like, 'Oh, you can live a life like that?'"
Someone in the business of ceramics once shared some words that have stuck with Kara to this day. "'Think about washing dishes as holding hands, because it’s a handmade object,'" Kara echoed. "I really liked that sort of notion— that it means more. That if you fill your life with things that can be appreciated, you’re going to have a better self-worth and worth all around."