This article appears in May/June 2015 The Encounter.
For artists dreaming of making a living from art, Emily Reinhardt’s life must seem like the ultimate fantasy. Every day, the 26-year-old turns down high-end retailers and specialty boutiques who are clamoring to carry her distinctive ceramic vases, tumblers, vessels, tableware and signature ring dishes. Demand is so high, in fact, she’s having difficulty keeping up with orders.
It’s a great problem to have, one Reinhardt never would have envisioned several years ago. That’s because she didn’t set out to be a ceramist. She initially studied photography at Kansas State University, but after receiving oblique praise from a professor while taking a ceramics class, she realized clay was her medium. “For my first project, I made sculptural mounds with indentations to hold bowls, and a professor walked by and said, ‘That’s pretty good,’” Reinhardt recalls. “My teacher said, ‘He never says that! You should definitely change your major!’ I walked right over to the office and made the switch.”
The professor was Yoshi Ikeda, a ceramist known for works imbued with serene symmetry. He saw something in Reinhardt, so much so that when he retired, he gave her his kiln and wheel. “He told me, ‘I wouldn’t give this to any of your other classmates,’” she remembers. “Yoshi had a way of seeing something in you before you saw it. Without that equipment, I never would have been able to do what I’m doing.”
Before then, however, Reinhardt needed a lucky break, one that came via a broken foot in 2013. Her boyfriend received a job in Omaha, but instead of joining him that summer, she had to wait until September. In the meantime, she prepared for the move by opening her store, The Object Enthusiast, on Etsy. “I ended up doing it purely as a way to get rid of pottery,” she explains. “I was just getting rid of stuff. I wasn’t planning on starting a business. I really didn’t think it was feasible.”
Feasible it was. Shortly after opening, Etsy contacted her about featuring her work on its homepage in September. Reinhardt’s profile skyrocketed. “It led to a lot of sales,” she says. “I had to make everything to order. That first holiday season was insane!”
Things got crazier. In 2014, retailer Anthropologie approached Reinhardt about carrying a limited run of her small dishes, which can be used for rings, bracelets, and other delicate sundries. Additional retailers quickly took note, and today Reinhardt’s elegant ceramic wares can be found in shops as far away as Australia as well as closer to home at Hutch in Midtown Crossing.
All of this has led Reinhardt to move her studio from her cramped basement into a downtown workspace, where she is expanding her collection to include tableware as well as other new items.
The young artist associates Omaha with much of this success. “When I moved here, I started making what I wanted to make,” Reinhardt reflects. “I feel like I can kind of equate all of the good things that have happened with Omaha. This is such a great place.”