This article appears in the May edition of 400 Life Magazine.
Since she was a little girl, Nancy Horton said she has always felt like a “doer of everything but a master of none.” Horton was always busy and setting new goals for herself, through competitive swimming or arts and crafts.
When Horton had kids of her own, she used her “can-do” attitude to teach swimming lessons. Years passed with Horton in the water, but she’d always had a nagging itch to get her hands dirty.
Horton bought a potter’s wheel to satisfy that urge, but it remained unused until her daughter, Jana, went to college. Horton said that when her daughter decided to take a pottery class, she “dug out the old wheel” and set it on her back porch.
“It’s been such a nice transition [from teaching swim lessons] to have something that I enjoy doing that makes people happy,” Horton said.
Encouraged by her daughter, Horton began taking pottery lessons in 2007 with Helen Miller. She took a class at Central Park in Forsyth and one at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Her goal for taking classes was that she was determined to make herself a set of different-sized dinner plates.
“Other than those short few classes, I’ve just been on my back porch making mistakes and discoveries,” Horton said.
As she continued to grow, so did her back porch and her business — Back Porch Pottery.
Horton said her porch has been through three renovations since she first set down that old potter’s wheel in 2007. She has three kilns, an awning and a weatherproof space where she can create in peace. Her porch overlooks Lake Lanier, making it the perfect spot to relax and imagine new possibilities.
Horton said she was looking forward to the year when she could begin to audit college classes and “finally learn some techniques with different glazes.” She qualified last year but was shot down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I thought that now that I’ve finally got the age to [audit college classes], I’m going to do it. But then the Covid-19 [virus] came,” Horton said. “And I ... really wanted to go to one of the colleges and see the class.”
Auditing classes was not the only thing that the pandemic took away from Horton. Her art shows were all cancelled in 2020, and she had to find creative ways to sell her pieces. Some of her pottery pieces were still being sold in shops in Forsyth County, including The Gypsy’s Farmhouse on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Cumming, but she wanted to reach more customers.
Around Christmas, Horton began to sell some of her pottery directly from her back porch. She said that she called up neighbors and posted on Facebook about the sale, and people from all over the street came to pick up pieces they liked.
Horton said the event was a success and “convenient,” and said she would consider selling from her back porch again. But for now, she is content to just spin and mold clay.
Some of Horton’s most popular designs are centered around nature. Horton said people ask her often to make her “little leaves.”
She makes shallow bowls with the shapes of different leaf imprints on them, perfect for resting coffee spoons and tea bags.
Horton also makes mugs, and her signature style is to make mugs with upside-down handles which is “way more comfortable for people to use.” Her mugs incorporate a variety of different colored glazes and shapes and are all unique. Because of their originality, Horton said her mugs are typically the first pieces to leave her booth at art shows.
As well as using natural themes, Horton also likes to make pieces that incorporate pressed lace and crocheting. She said she first got her “doily kick” when she made everybody in her family plates, bowls and compotes with their grandmother’s doily imprinted on them. Horton said that the pieces made great gifts and were like “family heirlooms” that everybody could have and share
“Most of my pieces are individual. I don’t make duplicates very well,” Horton said. “I think that’s why I’ve still been putting off my dishes all these years. It’s because [I think] I’ve got to make them all the same size … that’s hard.”
While Horton has still not finished her dinner plates, she has made it her goal this year. She also hopes to continue to work with her husband, Dave Horton, who was the administrator of the Cumming Fairgrounds for 20 years, at the family’s Christmas tree farm, Holly Hill Christmas Tree Farm in Dahlonega.
With a family business and her own, Horton makes sure her daughter and grandkids “are priority number one … pottery can come after.”
“I do try to get [my granddaughter] in the mud sometimes with me, though,” Horton said. “That’s always very interesting.”
Horton said she will continue to bring Back Porch Pottery to art shows. She’s also hoping to start an Etsy shop so she can capitalize on the online front and sell through a different platform.
“I just love creating new things, I love sharing my craft with as many people as possible,” Horton said.
She said that doing pottery has given her a sense of “self-worth” through the years and that she feels happy whenever she sees someone smile because of something she created.“Not that I don’t have self-worth from my husband and child and family, of course,” Horton said. “But you know, I was a competitive swimmer and I’ve always had to have goals. I’ve got to get those plates done, got to be able to get the clay thicker and thinner, got to try new techniques. I just have to try everything.”