Everyone thinks about falling in love when they are in high school.
And Cammie Meerdink did.
“I have been doing (pottery) since high school,” she said. “I’ve always liked art, and been an artsy kid. But then I had a teacher in high school who let me focus on the wheel. I kind of had a natural aptitude for it.”
Being educated in an environment that fostered artistic growth through trial and error, hands-on learning and opportunities to share knowledge, Meerdink said she thrived at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN.
“Back then, 1996, ‘97, ‘98, you didn’t have the internet like you do now,” she said. “So you went to the library to check out books. ‘I want to learn how to do this technique,’ so you found a person who did it and talked to them.
“That was a more freeing way I think to approach pottery.”
After college, Meerdink learned that sometimes love just has to wait, though.
With Bachelor’s degrees in Arts, Biology and English Literature, which, according to Meerdink, “you can do nothing with,” she decided to move to Champaign to pursue veterinary school.
Once in Champaign-Urbana, Meerdink actually went on to nursing school where she could take advantage of a full scholarship and end up in the flexible profession she watched her parents and sister thrive in.
As a registered nurse at Carle Hospital, Meerdink took a seven-year break from pottery, even though she had a 2-speed wheel and a kiln on her property.
“Between having three kids and a full-time job, you have no extra time,” she said. “You wouldn’t have time to make dinner. Or if you made dinner, you wouldn’t have time to hang out with your kids. You just had to pick.”
“My other two kids had never gone to daycare, but my youngest did because I was working so much. And I didn’t like it.”
It was because of her love for her children, that Meerdink decided to convert the extra ‘junk’ room off the side of her home into a pottery studio.
She opened Piper Pottery in 2015.
Piper comes from her maiden name. Her youngest daughter is also named Piper.
The studio is a place of business, but Meerdink also likes that she’s always there for and with her children, sharing her love of 20 years.
“(Piper) just comes out here,” Meerdink said. “There’s an easel she plays with or she gets clay or brings her Playdough out.”
“Eva (Cammie’s other daughter) is a salesperson,” she said. “She is way better at it than I am. I’m like, ‘If you like pottery, you can have some.’ And she’s like, ‘This would look great in your house. I think this would really compliment your decor.’”
Meerdink’s son even gets in on the action.
“Daniel is the one who is the most creative. He makes stuff all the time.”
Meerdink hopes that as her children watch her pursue her dreams, they will not only learn that they, too, can pursue their own, but that they’ll also learn that they have all the tools they need to figure things out.
“If you can be a figure-outter, you will be fine,” she said. “You don’t need to be smart. You don’t need to be good at math or spelling. If you can figure it out; if you can be like ‘oh, I have a problem, and I can solve it,’ then you will be fine.
“We talk about that a lot at our house. How would you figure that out? Use your brain. I am not going to help you. You are a human with all working appendages; I am confident you can get this done.”
Meerdink said the last few years of running her business and being there with her children has made her “a much more balanced and well-rounded person.”
And, being a creative who moves quickly from one task to another, Meerdink has also had to figure out the rhythm of her business.
Selling everything from ornaments to bowls, vases to hand-formed dishes, Meerdink’s days not only spent fulfilling orders, but also producing merchandise that will sell seasonally.
Meerdink, who said she is “fine with not doing the same thing every day,” schedules her time between making product, working on marketing, preparing for shows and making sure the financial side of her business is taken care of.
“I like making everything,” she said. “I don’t do well with one of anything.”
“I’ve gotten much more focused in what I’m making. Now that I’m trying to make money, I try to be more organized. I’ll sit down and make a bunch of leaves, cups or bowls in one session. Every once in a while, I’ll sit down with a big lump of clay and say I’ll make whatever I can make.”
Part of Piper Pottery’s success has come off the consumer trend of seeking out handmade over mass-produced merchandise.
She began with an Etsy shop. Then in 2016 she moved into small markets, like the Urbana’s Farmer’s Market at the Square.
Today, with a social media following that far reaches the confines of East Central Illinois, Meerdink has moved into a time where she is working full-time on her business, doing what she loves.
“I think (pottery) grounds me and balances me,” she said.
To learn more about Piper Pottery, visit the website at piperpottery.com.