In an echo of Kingston’s glory days as a manufacturing center, a cluster of companies have developed a flourishing niche as artisan producers of highly specialized goods.
Locally, almost everyone’s heard of R&F Handmade Paints, located at 84 Ten Broeck Avenue, which manufactures encaustic paints and oil paint sticks in a former brick Standard Oil Building. However, there’s another very successful, nationally known company located across the railroad tracks at 62 Ten Broeck Ave., in a former brick Nabisco warehouse building: Bailey Pottery Equipment Corp., which has become a household name among potters from New York to California.
Founded by potters Jim Bailey and his wife, Anne Shattuck Bailey, the company manufactures and resells equipment and tools to universities, school programs, professional potters, and serious amateurs. Originally selling through a catalog and now almost exclusively an e-commerce company (www.baileypottery.com), Bailey Pottery has 26 employees and owns a second building on Foxhall Ave., where wheels, kilns and other pieces of equipment designed by Jim—sold only through the company—are produced. Customers include the ceramics departments of most US universities. “We have everything a university or potter would want,” said Jim. “Over 400 universities have our gas kilns.”
Besides being a comprehensive supplier, Bailey Pottery Supply delivers superior customer service. “We really take care of customers who have problems and technical questions,” Bailey said. “We have the ability to advise them because of our extensive knowledge of clay. We know our products inside and out.”
Bailey was originally an artist, who made the shift to equipment design some 34 years ago. Shortly after attending the Kansas City Art Institute, he designed his first piece of equipment—a machine that formed clay into slabs—while spending the summer in a studio in the Adirondacks that was a former art center, stocked with clay, mixers and potter’s wheels. “I started small and decided to continue to design more equipment. I never have a shortage of ideas,” said Jim. One of his heroes is industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who designed everything from corporate logos to streamlined locomotives to the space center Skylab. He has taken to heart Loewy’s saying, “Never leave well enough alone.” “I get new ideas for products that increase efficiency and save energy,” he said. “Also products that improve on ergonomics, which save time and money.”
In the beginning, Bailey had sub-contracted a machine shop in Kingston to build his equipment. When it couldn’t keep up with the demand, he apprenticed at the shop to learn about steel manufacturing techniques, subsequently using that knowledge to design more machines. He rented space for his company in the city before buying his building in 1986. Anne Bailey, who graduated from Harrow School of Art in England and studied with some of the most important potters of the 1970s in England, developed the Ceramic Supply Division of Bailey in 1985. Her love of materials and deep understanding of the tools potters use helped Bailey grow and gain national recognition as a place professionals could find anything and everything a potter might need. Today the Ceramic Supply Division accounts for over 50 percent of sales.
The interior was recently remodeled to create more space for the show room, and next year Bailey Pottery plans to begin hosting workshops. The workshops will be geared both towards technical training—for example, on how to operate some of the company’s specially designed kilns–and artistic techniques, with high-profile national artists brought in to share their methods of working in three-dimensional design. Bailey will thus join the tiny cohort of companies—they include R&F Handmade Paints and Fleisher’s Grass-fed & Organic Meats, in Uptown—that are boosting the local economy be bringing newcomers to town, who eat in local restaurants, stay in Kingston’s bed and breakfasts, and get out the word about what a great city this is.