BRISTOL — Jamie Kozlowski was 11 years old when his dad, Jim, left a teaching career in the Greece Central School District to pursue his passion for pottery full time.
His father and his mother, Lois, have since retired to Trumansburg. However, the Wizard of Clay Pottery company continues to thrive in the capable hands of Jamie and his wife, Pegge Northrup.
The Wizard of Clay operates out of a series of geodesic domes that Jamie’s father built on Route 20A in the Bristol countryside after moving the family from Greece; it was in the basement of that Monroe County home where Jim, who had been an art teacher, started making pottery. The domes were designed to catch the attention of those driving along the state highway, and they’re part of the Wizard of Clay’s destination cache that has been built over 40 years.
“There are not a lot of businesses that make it this long,” said Pegge, who handles the business end of things while Jamie cranks out the thousands of pottery pieces they sell at the shop, at various shows around the country, and on the internet.
While Jamie helped his dad as a youngster, it wasn’t a given that he would someday take on the business his father and mother built.
“I thought my parents worked too hard,” he said.
Jamie said he spent three years out West in the early 1990s, working as a bartender and a “ski bum.” He was hoping to take ownership of the restaurant where he served drinks. That didn’t pan out, and Jamie decided to come back to Bristol to join the family business, where he concentrated on repairing the equipment used in making thrown pottery.
After performing some repairs on a potter’s wheel, he decided to make a pot for kicks.
He liked it.
“The next day, I told (my dad) I’d like to try doing this for real,” he said.
That was 25 years ago. In 2014, he became the Wizard of Clay’s only full-time potter.
Jamie, 51, described Wizard of Clay products as not just beautiful, but functional and affordable.
“Some of this stuff we have is kind of recession-proof,” Jamie said. “There is something for every wallet. To make a living, you have to have things that people can afford.”
He insisted there is a difference in the talents he and his father possess.
“I do not consider myself an artist,” he said. “I consider myself a replicator. I don’t mind that. My ego is not wrapped in what I make.”
What he does make is a lot: about 170 pieces an hour, and rarely is there one he has to chuck.
From May 13, 2018, to May 12, 2019, Jamie said he created 17,134 pieces of pottery. It’s that kind of efficiency that allows him to price these high-quality pottery pieces in a range many people can afford.
Remember Jamie saying his father and mother worked too hard? The same might be said about him.
“I’m here 6½ days a week, sometimes seven,” he said as the family dog, Caesar, a lab mix, strolled the shop and a host of employees put the finishing touches on his pottery creations. “It’s not a job to me. It’s a lifestyle.”
Without his wife, Pegge, and her business acumen, said Jamie, Wizard of Clay Pottery doesn’t work.
“Without her, I’d be in a pickle,” he said.
The Wizard of Clay marked its 40th anniversary Oct. 26 with an open house. Those attending the shindig had an opportunity to see the second Wizard in action. In fact, Jamie and Pegge noted, that’s something customers can do anytime they stop in for a visit. It’s one of the things that makes Wizard of Clay Pottery a destination for people in the greater Rochester area, the Finger Lakes region and beyond.
“People come in to watch me every day,” he said.
Wizard of Clay is blessed with another draw next door: Noble Shepherd Brewery, which took over two former Wizard buildings next door. The beer mugs they feature didn’t travel far: The Wizard made them.
Jamie thinks his best days with Wizard of Clay are still ahead, explaining he feels decades younger than his 51 years.
“I don’t think I’ve peaked yet,” he said. “I’m still on the upswing. It’s been a trip to keep this business going as successfully as we have. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.”
“There are not a lot of small businesses that make it this long,” Pegge added. “In a world where everything is bought on Amazon, this family-run, family-operated business is a testament to my in-laws. They built a foundation, and now we’re keeping it going.”