This year marks the 40th anniversary for Rockcliffe Pottery and Craft Studio in Nipissing, owned and operated by professional potter and champion of the arts, Tony Oorschot.
Being a professional potter for four decades, if you ask Tony what she attributes the longevity and success of her business to, she’ll say it’s because of her loyal customers, great staff, and craftsmanship of her product.
“Even after 40 years, it still amazes me that I can take a ball of clay and turn it into a beautiful, functional piece of pottery,” she said.
Rockcliffe Pottery and Craft Studio, nestled in a quaint tourist area, is where Tony creates her pottery pieces. The two-storey building houses her studio on the main floor, and a craft shop on the upper level where a variety of pieces from artists around the world are for sale.
For Tony, it’s not just about selling and sharing her love of pottery, but it’s also about supporting other artists, acquiring pieces from across North America, Europe and Mexico.
“We have done a lot of travelling and we’ve brought back a lot of handmade pieces,” Tony said. “I love to buy products to meet customer’s needs and I have up to 40 people’s artwork in my gift shop,” including renowned Canadian potters Don Zver, Pavlo, and Susan Robertson.
Besides pottery, patrons can find a wide variety of unique pieces in the craft shop. From wood and metal work, glassware and jewellery, to various art works, there is something unique for everyone.
The journey to 40 years that began with a woman who never gave up on her dream
Tony’s journey to running a successful pottery studio is as interesting and varied as the pieces for sale in her craft shop.
She first learned to knit in kindergarten and finding she enjoyed working with her hands, eventually began creating beautiful textile pieces. During that time, she also helped in the family grocery store, which gave her an early business acumen.
However, it was in 1965 when she immigrated to Hamilton from the Netherlands with her husband Jan and two small children, that she came across a gift shop filled with pottery pieces. This inspired her to one day go back to school and to have a studio and gift shop of her own.
“I promised myself when my youngest son goes to grade one, I’m going back to school to learn pottery and I did,” Tony said.
In 1971, with four children, Tony and her family moved to Nipissing and purchased Rockcliffe Cottages. And true to her word, when her youngest went into grade one in 1979, Oorschot enrolled in Canadore College, where she earned a Diploma in craft and design. Soon after, they transformed her husband’s garage into Rockcliffe Pottery and Craft Shop and opened in that same year.
With the business a success, the Oorschots built a larger studio and craft shop in 1987 onsite, where it remains today. Besides selling pieces, Tony and her staff also give tours, invite people to watch her work in studio, and welcome school children to learn about, and try their hand, at pottery.
Moving forward and commemorating a milestone anniversary
At almost 78 years young, Tony is still actively creating, firing about seven kilns of pottery each season, from the second week of June until Thanksgiving Monday. She attributes her work ethic to her passion for pottery and work-life balance. With no plans of slowing down, in the off-season she travels to Mexico where she also plans to share her passion for the arts.
“There is a couple who have started a craft and art school and I am going to volunteer my time and teach small children over there,” she said.
Rockcliffe Pottery and Craft Studio’s annual open house is on June 18. Their first 40 customers will receive a small vase with purchase and daily door prizes during that weekend. Tony is also offering 10 per cent off all merchandise for the season and the annual prize draw for all customers will take place on Thanksgiving Monday. For more information, contact them, call 705-729-2802, or like them on Facebook to learn more.