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Meet Trailblazer Susan Tull and Jo Ann Molter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Tull and Jo Ann Molter.

Susan and Jo Ann, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The two of us actually worked together decades ago, in the business world of all places. We bumped into each other out of the blue while taking ceramics classes back in 2017.

With neither of us knowing what the other had been up to all those years, we had taken similar paths. Both of us had turned to pottery as a way to help us center (literally and figuratively!), cultivate our creativity, and practice self-care in the midst of busy lives. We believed there was an opportunity to make pottery welcoming and accessible to a wider array of people right here in the community, and here we are!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Before we opened up in our first location, a tiny place on University Avenue in La Mesa Village, just about everything was challenging because we were new to this whole thing and we’re starting from the ground up.

We spent a lot of time on our business plan, making sure we could bring value to ceramic artists of all types and levels of experience. But once we opened our doors, it turned out that more than 90% of the folks coming to Mud Lily had never worked with clay in a studio setting before at all. So, we quickly recognized that we’d need to focus mostly on teaching beginning ceramics classes. The two of us teach a lot of pottery now!

Another big challenge was finding commercial real estate. We wanted a space that was more inspiring than your typical industrial setting, but that was still highly functional, providing equipment and resources that many first-timers don’t get access to and that experienced potters often miss out on in a home studio situation. We had hoped that a broker would be able to help us dial in our search, but because we were 1st-time business owners, those big names in commercial leasing weren’t exactly pounding down our doors to work with us. We ended up doing the legwork and going through lots of ups and downs on our own. We finally found the place that would eventually become Mud Lily by calling the number on a little “For Rent” sign in a window of a tiny space that we saw while driving through our neighborhood.

In our second year, we started outgrowing that “little space to create” in La Mesa. We loved having a full house and it had taken two years for us to get the ambiance in the studio just the way we wanted it, but making pottery requires moving delicate work from stage to stage of the process. That was becoming more difficult as our community grew.

Even after we found our absolute dream location on Adams Avenue back in November, we were challenged to move our shop quickly without disrupting our community members. We have a lot of heavy equipment and our classes were booked out a couple of months in advance. We had only a couple of days between the end of one session and the beginning of the next one to get things done. We splurged and got movers to help us (we’d always relied on the help of friends and family previously), and that was the best investment we could have made.

Even choosing our business name was challenging. The two of us were both in lock-step on what Mud Lily stood for, its ability to inspire our local community to gather and create, and by how it would stand apart–but agreeing on a name that would best capture those things took some time. A “mud lily” is another name for the lotus flower. It symbolizes enlightenment and it grows from the mud!

We’d love to hear more about Mud Lily Clay Studio.
We have an inspiring and functional space to learn or practice pottery… and we have space for you! Mud Lily is a beautiful, natural, and welcoming ceramics studio located in a neighborhood where creativity thrives. Leave any pretense, troubles, or attachment to outcomes outside the door–there’s nothing you can do about them when your hands are muddy, anyway.

In addition to the creative appeal of our studio space and the mellow mindset of our community, we offer lots of different ways to carve out some clay time for yourself. Group classes and one-time-experience workshops are perfect for people who want to learn with or make new friends; private lessons offer one-on-one attention; and open studio hours give folks who have taken a class before the freedom to explore on their own. Figure out your perfect mix of classes, workshops, and solo practice, then book and manage it all online.

If you’ve ever felt intimidated by the thought of joining a ceramics studio, or if you think you can’t make the time for yourself, let’s connect. We believe that with patience, growth is destiny: small pots get bigger, neighbors become friends, hearts open, and minds expand. We love that most of our first customers, who had never done ceramics before, are still part of our community. We are so lucky to be able to watch their growth and we continue to be impressed by their commitment to their pottery practice.

Oh, and for those who admire ceramics but don’t feel drawn to making it, we have a little retail section that is always changing. You can’t get more local than buying right from the place where the pottery is made!

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
In addition to all of the external pressures female leaders face like wage inequality, we also put pressure on ourselves to try to be everything to everybody. If we’re lucky, we get to live a long life–one that gives us the opportunity to do lots of different things over time. We don’t have to do lots of different things all at the same time.

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Image Credit:
Jo Ann Molter

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