03/19/2013 10:10AM ● Published by Kerri Regan
Olson Stoneware in WeavervilleStory: Kerri Regan Photos: Eric Leslie
When Greg Olson was in high school, his vision for the future was laser sharp: “All I thought about was being a pro golfer.”
Then someone sat him down at a potter’s wheel.
“I took a crafts class, and my teacher himself was a very good potter. I got on the potter’s wheel for the first time and absolutely fell in love with it,” he says. “I’d run in there any time I had a free minute and get on that wheel. I’d be covered with clay going to my different classes. There was something magical about that potter’s wheel, about creating something out of a lump of clay.”
It was the beginning of a decades-old love affair for Greg, who owns Olson Stoneware in Weaverville with his wife, Susie. They have been producing one-of-a-kind pottery at their whimsical shop on Main Street since 1975.
Greg’s work is inspired by the mountain town’s natural beauty, with green, brown and blue glazes getting top billing. Each hand-thrown pot is the result of a 15-step process, including two 10-hour firings to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit that give the glazes their rich finishes. Creating this unique look is a “difficult, awkward process,” he says, adding that many pieces break in the process. “The glazes want to flow off the pot, so they have to be applied at just the right thickness. But I love the flow and the variation. And if it was easy, everyone would do it.”
The Olsons met through mutual acquaintances while Greg was working on a sheep ranch in Red Bluff, and they opened their first business shortly after moving to Susie’s family’s Sonoma County hometown. “Her parents let me use a corner of the deck of their house, and her grandpa and I built my first kick potter’s wheel together,” Greg says.
Back then, he spent most of his waking hours mastering his craft, and the Olsons opened a business in Sonoma County in 1972. Three years later, they moved to Weaverville, a town that held a special place in Susie’s heart; her family had vacationed every summer in Trinity County since 1919.
They set up their lone kick potter’s wheel and small kiln in a diminutive shop around the corner from where the business resides now. They moved to their current location in 1983, where “the front half was pottery, but you could see through a window to the back half where Greg was throwing pots,” Susie says. Because the kilns fire 12 hours a day, they decided to move their studio to their home and expand the retail space a while back.
Today, Olson Stoneware is a flourishing retail and online business with a heavy focus on customer service, and they’ve entertained visitors from around the world. The shop features more than 100 of their pottery items, along with other manufacturers’ fine gift lines, including jewelry, lodge and camp merchandise, enamelware, cottage décor and children’s books and games.
Greg creates the pottery, but Susie often helps decorate it, along with heading up the ordering, merchandising and bookkeeping for the business. They recently moved down to Redding to be closer to their grandsons, but they still spend plenty of time up the hill. “We like Weaverville’s small-town feel,” Susie says. “We’ve been there for so many years that we’ve developed a following of people who vacation at the lake - a lot of them come in and do all their Christmas shopping here.”
And as long as he’s physically able, Greg says he can’t imagine ever retiring from the pottery business. “Now all I want to do is play golf,” deadpans Greg, who plays competitively. “But I still love my pottery work. I can truly say I’ve never been bored with it. There are never enough hours in the day for me. There are so many things I want to try.”
Olson Stoneware, Inc. • 516 Main St., Weaverville (530) 623-4718 • www.olsonstoneware.com www.etsy.com/shop/OlsonStoneware