Article by Richelle Putnam
Photos by Letty Weeks
Years ago, when Brent DeShea Weathers was learning to sew as a young girl, a simple piece of fabric would never do. She had to have several pieces that she could sew together to make her own “original” fabric. As she grew older, her desire to create new and distinctive things grew as well. She loved creating and painting wall murals in homes, but had to stop when she was expecting her first child since she could no longer climb a ladder. It was Brent’s mother who helped her decide what to do next.
Her mother had seen a TV show about a potter from Tennessee who made a living by making pottery. “She told me that she thought pottery was something I would enjoy doing,” Brent said.
Evidently, Brent agreed because she and her husband Daryl immediately researched and purchased pottery equipment, which they placed in the 100-year-old farmhouse on their property in Etta, Mississippi. For the Weathers’ family and their roaming farm animals, the community of Etta provided the perfect setting to craft pottery and build memories. It also provided the perfect name: Etta B Pottery.
“We started playing around with clay and mixing glazes,” Brent said. “We bought our equipment in February and worked up until June to create our look. Then we took our samples to market in June.”
The first day at market, Brent and Daryl realized they were definitely going to need help in filling the orders because ten stores wanted to carry their pottery and they had sold several thousand pieces.
“I didn’t even want to go back to market the second day, but we didn’t have a choice. We ended up with 22 stores the first season, which meant thousands and thousands of pieces.”
That was in 2008. Today, the farmhouse is a small showroom for stores to preview Etta B.’s new seasonal pieces. Close by is the new 6,000 square-foot facility that the Weathers never thought they would fill.
“Now, we are talking about expanding with another building to keep up with the stores we currently have.”
Around 20 full-time employees work for them. Brent develops a spec of exactly how to craft each pottery piece. Some employees have art degrees, but Brent mainly looks for team players with good character who are willing to learn.
“I feel like we are all a family,” Brent said. Daryl works fulltime with Etta B. and son, Baylor Rae, and daughter, Brooklyn DeShae, also contribute time and love to the business.
What makes Etta B. Pottery unique are its textures, shapes, sizes, and signature color palette. Plus, pieces are both decorative and functional.
“I like to mix and match different patterns and designs and colors that complement one another,” Brent said. All pieces are hand painted, so it takes a lot of time doing all the color breaks. “We don’t dip any of our pottery.”
Etta B. Pottery is constantly changing and evolving. Pieces are handmade and formed from a flat slab of clay which is molded into a shape. You want to make a bowl, Brent explained, but you don’t want that bowl to look like everyone else’s bowl. You give it some character and an organic feel. “We do have some limitations since we’re not working with a mold,” Brent said. But this means each piece really is an individually, uniquely crafted item. Therefore, pieces don’t have a monotone look.
Etta B. rarely changes its colors. Brent will add a new color to the line, but it may take four years before it hits a store. This year for fall, customers will enjoy new colors that have never been done before.
“We don’t often change pieces, we add pieces,” Brent said. “We also do a Christmas addition every year.” A few new everyday pieces are added, as well as pieces to the fall and collegiate collection. This past year, one of the bestselling pieces was “Calvary,” a painting of three crosses on a hill. But a lot goes into every decision. “I don’t just quickly make changes to things or add new things without being sure it is going to be a good fit.”
Etta B. Pottery’s success was immediate, but Brent and Daryl know that is the exception rather than the rule. They continue to be humbled every year as the business grows.
“There are so many wonderful potters in Mississippi,” Brent said. “I’m so grateful and thankful that I get to do something that I thoroughly love.”