August 1, 2019 | Alyson Stanfield

Building a Legacy Brand and Destination with Sean VanderVliet

Regular listeners of the Art Biz Podcast know I love to explore the topic of legacy–the mark you’re leaving on the world. Check out my conversations with David Paul Bayles in episode 15 and Mary Erickson in episode 19.

So when I heard Sean VanderVliet say the L word, I knew I had to talk with him. He thinks big and I like that.

©Sean VanderVliet, assorted pieces from the Park Slope collection. Red stoneware with satin black glaze.
©Sean VanderVliet, assorted pieces from the Park Slope collection. Red stoneware with satin black glaze.

Sean is the artist behind Fenway Clayworks based here in Denver, Colorado, and in just a few years he has created a brand and a buzz around his functional pottery. A number of Denver’s finest restaurants commission Sean for their signature dinnerware.

He wasn’t always a ceramic artist. For a number of years Sean worked in tech startups and even, with partners, started his own niche business for rock climbers. He has been able to translate the lessons he learned in those positions to his career as an artist.

Sean says that people work with him because they see his passion. Although 60% of his current business is from commissions, he makes work only in his style. If you want something with a flower or aspen tree on it, look elsewhere.

He enjoys immensely the collaboration with chefs and others, but he is also clear that not everyone is a customer. This is just one of the numerous business lessons in Sean’s story that are applicable regardless of the type of work you do.

Sean VanderVliet of Fenway Clayworks in his Denver pottery studio.

After hearing his vision, you may want to start looking out for a Fenway Clayworks in your neighborhood.


Music by Wildermiss

Our topics of discussion include:

  • Sean’s background and how his childhood community influenced the work he does today.
  • Why he left his corporate job to be “part of something small” and how working at other companies has served him in his pottery business.
  • The business model he operates and the breakdown of his income streams – 60% wholesale dinnerware to restaurants in the Denver community, 20% wholesale to retailers, 20% direct retail sales.
  • How Sean’s confidence has grown, which has allowed for more success in his business.
  • His commitment to his own design style.
  • How Sean plans to scale his business and hire help to support his growth.
  • The role he’s assigned to social media and email (and Instagram as “the perfect platform for potters”).
  • Why he believes that people choose to work with him over other artists.
  • Sean’s dedication to educating and explaining his process and how this translates to pricing. And his realization that “not everyone is a customer, and that’s okay.”
  • What’s next for Sean and his plan for an “experiential retail” space.

Denver artist Sean Vandervliet's Eichler Table Lamp in collaboration with Cream Modern
©Sean VanderVliet, Eichler Table Lamp #6. Stoneware base with a clear gray glaze and hand-brushed underglazes. Hand turned solid black walnut stem, base, and finial in collaboration with Colorado woodworker, Cream Modern.

Resources

Simon Pearce
Craftsy (now Bluprint)
Modern in Denver feature article on Sean
Beckon restaurant
5280 profile on Sean

About My Guest

Sean VanderVliet was born in Iowa, grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and attended college in Maine before heading to Colorado.

His style has become heavily influenced by the recent transformation of Denver itself and the ever-growing artisan community aspiring to create something impactful. He says, “It's a practical and happy town–full of people dedicated to the things they care most about. I'm one.”

Follow Sean on Instagram.

Music by Wildermiss.

This episode of the Art Biz Podcast is sponsored by our live workshops, where we can accomplish more in two days than if you spent 6 months trying to figure it out yourself. Join us in Seattle on September 28-29!

4 comments add a comment
  • Sean is bent n keeping his work, his brand, HIS, not trailing off into other artist’s styles. I like that! He’s using his background to forge what he is now doing, not allowing his background to dictate to him that he should remain in the tech world, as I read. Sean ‘stepped out’ from his area of familiarity into an area of his own choosing. That gives me further impetus in my own life to strive and drive harder in my own creativity, especially when with all due diligence a number of ambitions don’t seem to take off as planned or hoped for! Enough! I’m replanning and pressing on for more, for better for those who are seeking what I can offer them in my area(s) of art! I agree also as Sean points out not everyone who sees my work will agree with what I do or be a customer! That makes it easier for me, my sense of reasoning to stop trying to figure everything out so often why something doesn’t work and to get on with creating it anyways! My work won’t be for everyone all the time! No further worries! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • marsh gegerson

    I had an epiphany. Sean’s pottery gave me food for thought. His brand IS his particular style of work. If I were to apply it to my painting, I need to not hop,skip and jump with my content but build my style within my strong suit… Abstracts, but to not get stuck in it but to grow along with my particular genre.

  • Jill Soukup

    Loved this interview. Thanks!!

  • sassi berrichi

    Good evening …

    Greetings to you and thank you for your communication
    I wish you good and happiness ..
    I hope to meet you artist in an art exhibition

    You have all my appreciation

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