Partner Spotlight: Elements Clay Studio from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

An afternoon with ceramist Susan Burge in her creative domain, Elements Clay Studio, located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, which overlooks the Four Roses Distillery—is all it took to recognize a kindred spirit. Susan, who shapes all of her Kentucky stoneware bowls, cups, plates, mugs, and other vessels by hand, shares Pappy & Company’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship as well as an appreciation for Kentucky’s native bourbon culture.

An heirloom-inspired coffee mug and pour-over set worthy of our craft coffee collection was a natural fit for Susan’s elemental aesthetic as well as the Pappy & Company brand, but we also partnered with Susan to create a complementary whiskey cup and flask. Organically shaped and thoughtfully rendered, our new Handmade Kentucky Stoneware Collection, is one you and your family will treasure for generations to come.

“It’s always inspiring when a collaboration comes together so organically and is at the core of what a true collaboration is between two small businesses. We visited Susan’s studio and felt a connection to her earthy, simple, and beautiful pieces, and she’s right there in bourbon country in the rolling hills of Kentucky. I loved the idea of adding products to our offerings that were completely handmade, connected to the earth and Kentucky,” says Pappy & Company co-founder Carrie Greener on collaborating with Elements Clay.

Either wheel thrown or hand-shaped, each piece of pottery—every plate, bowl, cup, mug, or other container—that comes out of Elements Clay Studio in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, is handcrafted by ceramist Susan Burge, using Kentucky sourced stoneware clay, which results in a weightier nonporous vessel that’s every bit as functional as it is beautiful. “I hope my pottery, in some small way, creates joy when it is held or used in everyday life,” says Burge, whose organically-shaped stoneware is lovingly crafted with patience as well as time-honed skill. Once formed, each thoughtful piece is trimmed and allowed to air dry before its first firing. After which, it’s removed from the kiln and cooled. The vessel is then dipped in a unique glaze and fired for the second and final time. When cared for properly, our new Handmade Kentucky Stoneware Collection, will last for generations to come, becoming treasured family heirlooms.    

We had a chance to sit down with Susan to ask her a few questions about her studio and the recent collaboration with Pappy & Company:

What makes the products you produce for Pappy & Company special?

The pieces are made with Pappy & Company in mind. I would like to think that the love and effort I put into each piece matches or enhances the love and effort Pappy & Company puts into their brand. Each piece is made from clay made in Lexington, Kentucky (Kentucky Mudworks) and has the Pappy & Company logo impressed into the clay. These pieces are sold exclusively on their website.

Describe what makes the production process and the materials you use unique?

I start each piece with a ball of clay. The clay I use is called Sheltowee. This stoneware clay is named after the popular Kentucky hiking trail. I love this clay because it gives the glazes a beautiful finish and uses an earthy tone. Each piece starts with a freshly wedged ball of clay and a pottery wheel. Depending on the piece I am working on for the Pappy line, I start with one and a half to three pounds of clay. The pieces are thrown and taken off the wheel and then they are set aside to start the drying process. This can take some time depending on the humidity levels. Once the pieces have been set up to the leather hard stage, they are trimmed, stamped, and signed. They are then placed aside to dry completely. Once the pieces are completely dry they are loaded into the kiln for the first firing of 1830 degrees. They are then unloaded, waxed, glazed, and fired in the final firing to 2300 degrees. It is quite a process. It takes time, patience and a real commitment to quality materials, just like fine bourbon.

What values are most important to your company?

I want to be creatively authentic and responsive. I hope each piece that I make adds joy in some small way to everyday life. I love the idea that my values are being served with every piece.

What would be the next product you would want to collaborate with Pappy & Company on? 

I think it would be fun to add a syrup server and a Kentucky-shaped platter into the line.

If you could get one piece of advice from Pappy Van Winkle himself, what would it be?

It would be about the importance of family. I love that the main ingredient in the Van Winkle bourbon is "family." How did Pappy know that was the key to longevity and what other key ingredients would he suggest?

Thanks Susan for you time. We are excited about our newest Stoneware Collection which can be found here.