sumac platter

I Love What You Do!              
Meet the people whose work makes life beautiful       Dec. 17, 2010

Even for Wisconsin, it's been a cold December, and after last weekend's snowstorms, it looks like a white Christmas is pretty much guaranteed around here, and in many parts of the country. While it's pretty to look at, the intense cold, ice, and wind can sap your energy after a while, especially when daylight is in such short supply. But the good news is we've almost reached the solstice and we can start looking forward to a little more sunshine, even if it's just a few more minutes every day. Every little bit helps!


Amid all the hustle and bustle of the coming week, with shopping, and wrapping, and card writing, I hope you also find time for some quiet meditation, maybe with a cup of tea and/or a good book. Best wishes for a wonderful weekend and a peaceful week ahead!


All the best,



This Week's Feature

Husband and wife Mark and Sylvia Mondloch each pursued their own artistic passions, Sylvia with pottery and Mark with blacksmithing. Now they've found beautiful ways to combine their skills into amazing works of art.

Tremendous Together


A potter and blacksmith pursue their artistic visions in tandem

Just outside the small Southeastern Wisconsin town of Random Lake, on a quiet country road that runs through cornfields, stands Silver Creek Pottery & Forgehome to potter Sylvia Mondloch and her husband Mark, a blacksmith. These two artists have been able to enjoy the unique opportunity to pursue their artistic visions independently as well as to collaborate on pieces that combine their talents into remarkably beautiful and functional designs.


Sylvia got started in pottery in the late 1970s, taking ceramics classes at the University of Wisconsin-Washington County in West Bend, Wis., and attending weekend workshops given by other potters.


"I wanted to work at home while raising my son, and I wanted to do work that is challenging, emotionally rewarding, and meaningful," she said.


Mark got his start about 20 years later when he worked part-time for blacksmith Dan Nauman at Big Horn Forge in Kewaskum, Wis.


"I started to do blacksmith work as a hobby," he said. "I loved it more than my real job so I quit my job and do it full time now."

Mark forms scroll
Mark uses a jig to help form a scroll.

"I started with books and with trial and error," he recalled. "My biggest jump in learning came from working for Dan for a year, and from going to the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA) conference in 1998."


Both Mark and Sylvia said they had numerous mentors, and now they pass along their knowledge to others.


"I learned from many other potters, from reading about them, meeting them at art fairs, and visiting their studios," Sylvia noted. "I was a 4-H pottery project leader for 20 years. One of my former students is an art teacher and we touch base about her pottery classes. We often have aspiring potters or blacksmiths that visit our studio and we are happy to show them around."


Mark agreed, noting, "Blacksmiths tend to be very open and helpful when beginners ask questions. I try and do the same, answering questions when an aspiring smith stops by."


For those who would like to learn more about exploring these art forms, Mark and Sylvia offered several recommendations. In addition to Internet resources like the Clayart listserv, Sylvia touted local community clay classes as well as national art centers like the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., and the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, N.C. Mark suggested joining groups like ABANA and the Upper Midwest Blacksmith Association (UMBA). 


Sylvia said the biggest challenge she faced early on was being taken seriously as an artist-not a problem anymore. Mark said his biggest hurdle is "convincing my wife that I need another tool!"

Building Their Business

Mark said there's no such thing as a "typical" day for him, while Sylvia said she works on a monthly schedule.


"I'll make enough pieces to fill the kiln, which takes about two weeks," she explained. "Glazing and loading the kiln takes a week, and firing and unloading the kiln takes another week. In between, I help customers in our gallery, take care of the gardens, and do other tasks around our home/studio.

Sylvia at wheel
Sylvia works at her pottery wheel.

"We have some helpers at our spring open house; otherwise it's just the two of us. Everything that we sell we make ourselves," Sylvia said.


"I think we both like to have control over our work and would have a hard time letting someone else do parts," Mark observed.


The spring open house, held each Mother's Day weekend, is their most popular event of the year.


"It's our busiest weekend by far," Sylvia noted. "Then we are busy until Christmas. After Christmas we work on new ideas and try to get ahead for the next Mother's Day open house."


Mark said the pace of his side of the business is roughly the same as Sylvia's, "with the exception of the occasional large project like a sign or railing that could take weeks. Then I get behind on everything else."


They no longer travel to shows or fairs, but do welcome people to come visit their gallery.

sink pedestal
This sink, pedestal, and mirror combine the two artists' talents.

"We used to do art fairs, and some wholesale," Sylvia explained. "Now we only sell from our home studio. It's all we can keep up with.


"The gallery is generally open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but a call first is recommended as we occasionally close," she said. Directions to the studio are listed on their website.


Sylvia said that most customers find out about them and their work via word of mouth.


"We send out a postcard to our mailing list before the open house," she said. "Our website is just informational. Because our work is one of a kind and we like to let it evolve constantly, selling on the internet is not an option we pursue."

Doing What They Love

Sylvia said the most unique aspect to their creations is "the wide range of work inspired by nature that is both functional and sculptural, for in the home and in the garden. Our pieces that combine my clay and Mark's ironwork are very popular."


Mark said that what he enjoys the most is "making a piece where it is impossible to tell what shape the iron was to start with."

Mark crafted this huge iron ball trellis for a private garden.

"I love making things with my hands," he reflected. "I get to do things my way, without a boss looking over my shoulder."


For Sylvia, the greatest enjoyment comes in firing the pieces and developing color and texture.


"I love making a connection with the earth and nature, and sharing that connection with others."

Getting in Touch

On the web:

By mail: Silver Creek Pottery & Forge, W6725 Hwy 144, Random Lake, WI 53075

By email:

By phone: 920-994-9568 (Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

I Love What You Do! is a publication of Omniprose, LLC. It is published weekly for $10 per year and is offered online through We're located at 2300 E. Euclid Ave., Bay View, WI 53207-2904.  Editor and Publisher: Mike O'Loughlin.

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Our archives contain all the featured artists from our previous newsletters. Click the links to read all about these talented artisans!
            Soapmaker Michelle Zahn

Wildlife artist Rob Fulton

Calligrapher Michael Noyes

Ornament maker Staci Lowery


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