Don't turn your
back on this heap of scrap metal... you might end up missing a gnome.
--- Sugar Post has been producing both pottery designs and metal works for over ten years now, catching eyes with specialty designs and unknown creatures. The metal works have become a fixture at art festivals, and over time have formed into a would of characters themselves. Not bad for a heap of scrap. I got a chance to chat with Sugar Post owner and creator Fred Conlon about his work, starting Sugar Post, thoughts on local art and a few other things. All while he introduced me to several of his friends for pictures in his
Gavin: Hey Fred. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Fred: I was born in 1974 in what was then the small town of
Gavin: How did you first get into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Fred: I used to be really into HO scale trains, and would spend the money I earned from cutting grass in the summer and shoveling snow in the winter to buy tiny model trains and buildings which I promptly put together and placed on the giant sheet of plywood in my room. The stuff didn't look that cool just sitting on a plain piece of plywood, so it wasn't long before I got the plaster of Paris out and started building mountains and landscapes to the side of my wall. Over the next couple of months I would add paint and glue to stick the grasses and trees all over the plaster mountains and up my wall as high as it would go. It was a great project, and my parents were cool enough to let it go as long as promised not to spackle any of my dirty clothes into the mountains. I was also the kid who got a wood burning kit for Christmas and set out to amputate and cauterize various GI Joe figures. I grew up skiing the best snow on earth, and could go up practically whenever I wanted, as long as I fulfilled my weekly obligations as an Alter Boy at the local Catholic Church.
Gavin: At what point did you head out for college, and what made you get into art?
Fred: As it always is, I couldn't wait to get out of Steamboat after High School, and now wish I had a way to get back there. Sometimes it's kind of a bummer when I go back to visit just to see all the changes and building that has taken place. Nothing like a small town that eventually pushes out all the locals. Not that its the towns fault, but things get expensive when the tourists bring in the big bucks and pretty soon the locals cannot afford to live there anymore. I went to
Gavin: What made you choose the U of U for college, and what was their program like?
Fred: My best friend growing up in Steamboat was named Jeff, and Jeff and I had always talked about being roommates in college. We met up after our freshman year in college and decided we wanted to make that happen. He suggested we go to
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up the pottery shop?
Fred: In December of 1997, I married the coolest girl I have ever known. She was the one that encouraged me to go after my dream and open up a pottery shop. A year or so before graduation, my Grandmother cashed out on some savings bonds and distributed them to all her Grandchildren. My share of the cash-out was about 5k. It came at a crucial time and was used to finish paying off tuition and make some sort of a car repair. With the money left over, I started a small business with another potter. I bought 4 pottery wheels, an electric kiln, some glaze ingredients and 1000 lbs of clay. We had barely enough money to pay our first months rent on a small space in Sugar House across the street from the Post Office.
Gavin: What was the first year open like?
Fred: Sugar Post Pottery opened the doors in October of 1998. We taught pottery class as a way to cover all our overhead, and that's barely what it did. The only take home pay we received was when we sold some pottery, and it was tough to make that happen. My wife had a job our first year of marriage while I struggled to figure out how to actually make some money off my pottery. She was the constant encouragement telling me to stick with it, even when it seemed to be the darkest of days. After sticking with the pottery full-time for 2 years, my wife was able to quit her job. This allowed her to help me down at the studio, and we were barely eeking out enough money to make ends meet. I started doing every little art show there was locally, and these shows seemed to fill in the cracks when we were short on sales down at the studio.
Gavin: What inspired you to start doing the metal turtles?
Fred: I always set time aside for new ideas, like when I was making a run of mugs, say 30-60 at a time, my mind would wander to other things and I would try and think of ways I could get into bigger and better art shows. Art shows are a strange thing- any of them that are worth doing need to be juried into- that means you need good pictures/slides of your work that go before a panel of experts. They are the ones that ultimately decide if you get in the show or not. The slides I had of my pottery were mediocre at best, and jurying into the larger shows were extremely difficult. I had always been interested in metal sculpture, and had recently purchased a small 110v welder to use for kiln repairs. I needed something interesting to add to the pottery, maybe some sort of metal component or accent that would make my stuff stand out from the rest. One day in early April of 2001, I found myself in a junk yard scrounging for interesting metal parts. I came across a pile of army helmets and was intrigued by them. My grandfather, husband of the grandmother that gave me the money, was a WWII veteran, and was stationed at
Gavin: Where do you get the parts to make everything in the metal works?
Fred: I bought enough parts to make one turtle, welded it together, and set it out in the pottery studio. It wasn't but a few days and a customer came in and wanted to buy it. I made a couple more, and sold a couple more and the rest is history.
Gavin: Did the designs come about by planning, or was it more accident than design?
Fred: I took the turtle and wanted to expand on the idea, so at Christmas I made a turtle with wings and sold them in a set of "2 Turtle Doves", a ladybug followed the next spring and then the Army Ant- all made out of authentic WWII army helmets. I was promoting cool stuff for the garden, but it seemed to me that people put a lot of stupid things in their garden. That is what led me to create the Gnomebegone-finally, garden art that didn't suck! Put the cool Gnomebegones in the garden and they will rid your yard of those pesky little Euro invaders!
Gavin: What brought about the decision to make a separate studio?
Fred: I did both the pottery and the metal stuff for about three years and found that I could jury into larger shows only with the metal, so that was the direction I headed. We moved from our original location across the street from the post office in 2003, to the old fire station on 2100 south. It was awesome to have all that space. I built a small quansit hut in the back parking lot and made all the metal art on site. In 2007 we started running out of room- the metal and the pottery were both growing and I had not touched the clay in about three years. I simply needed more space. 2008 rolled around and I began looking for a warehouse space where I could create larger scale art sculptures. I finally found one, and moved out of the pottery shop in early of 2009. The 11 years I have been in business I have always had a great relationship with my two different business partners, I missed the first one when he decided to leave, and I miss the second one now that I have left. We still keep up the friendship, and it is good to hear from them from time to time. The thing I will miss the most about leaving this time is the daily contact I had down at the pottery shop with him.
Gavin: Up at Sugar House you guys teach pottery classes. Tell us about those and what you can learn.
Fred: Class is still offered Monday through Friday nights from 6:30-8:30pm. The cost is $85 a month and includes clay, glaze, tools, and firings, plus all the open studio time you can use during the month. It is one of the best things going on in Sugar House, and we have people that have been in class for 6 years, as well as newcomers each month. People can make as many pieces as they want, from bowls to mugs to platters to vases.
Gavin: Going state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local art scene, both good and bad?
Fred: The art scene in
Gavin: Seeing how you've been at the Utah Arts Festival for a while not, what are your thoughts on how its grown and its impact on the state?
Fred: The Utah Arts Festival as well as the Park City Arts Festival are both terrific shows. I had to pay my dues though to get into them. I applied to both of them for 5 years in a row before I finally got accepted. Once I was in, it was, and continues to be, two of my best shows. I won best of show in
Gavin: What can we expect from you at both shops over the rest of the year?
Fred: What to expect from me in the upcoming season? I always have new products coming out, and this year is no different. Now that I have a larger space to work, I am not so limited by size. I have a ton of ideas kicking around in my head of larger scale things I want to make. I love the creative process... if fact sometimes it is more enjoyable for me to go through the process of making it than it is to get a finished piece.