Labor of Love
By Jackie Sheckler Finch | Photography courtesy of April Shelby Crowell
A Mississippi potter found her life’s calling at college and decided to use her talents to bring comfort and joy.
When April Shelby Crowell entered Mississippi State University, she found her future. Although she had always been interested in art and was registered as an art major, it was during her college years that Crowell initially tried her hand at creating pottery.
“The first time I set foot in pottery class, I loved it,” she says. “I had never done it before and feel so blessed that I discovered it and get to do what I love.”
Today, Crowell is owner of a popular pottery business in Flowood, Mississippi. Every piece is handmade by Crowell and signed with her artist name — A. Shelby Pottery. But Crowell is quick to point out that the valuable assistance she received on her art journey is what helped bring her to where she is today.
As a senior at Mississippi State, Crowell received an entrepreneurship grant. She used the money to buy a single kiln and start a part-time pottery shop in her garage. She also had the help of a business counselor in college to assist her on her way.
“I didn’t know anything about how to set up a business, how to get it registered with the state, how to do all the legal work that has to be done,” she says. “It all seemed very overwhelming at first, but my business counselor guided me through it and made it seem simple.”
In March 2019, Crowell took a leap of faith and became a full-time potter. Having a supportive husband — she married J.R. Crowell in 2015 — and a lack of personal debt also was an important part of the decision to become a full-time business owner.
“It’s a risky move to open a business so you have to be sure you have the financial freedom to take the risk. I couldn’t do it without my husband’s support and encouragement.”
Now located in a large warehouse space, Crowell creates high-quality stoneware that is functional enough for everyday life but also special enough to add beauty to a home.
“As I like to say, ‘It’s Art for Everyday Use,’” she says.
Crowell crafts a wide variety of both general pottery and commissioned pieces that can be found in local gift shops across Mississippi. In 2018, Crowell began making pottery adorned with Bible verses to raise money for a mission trip she and her husband hoped to take. Not only did she meet her financial goal, but Crowell also discovered that her Bible verse pottery had become a thoughtful gift from those who purchased them.
“I never expected this to happen but people have been buying the Bible verse pottery for friends who are grieving or going through a hard time or just need some comfort,” Crowell says. “It’s wonderful to know that what I make can bring a little bit of comfort to someone during difficult times.”
Another favorite piece of A. Shelby Pottery also came from an unexpected request.
“My pottery studio is in the same building as a gift shop,” Crowell says. “One day the gift shop owner came to me and said she wanted someone to come in and make pottery for people with handprints of their children.”
At first, Crowell thought the handprint pottery market was already filled by others and she didn’t want to change her personal pottery style. “But I thought about it a little more and decided I could do it and still stay true to my style.”
“Children are little for such a brief time so it’s nice to have this beautiful reminder of their little hands,” she says. “It has also given me a chance to meet my clients one on one. So many stories, so many struggles some of them went through to bring their child into this world.”
Although Crowell and her husband don’t have children yet, she did make paw prints of their two canine family members: a Goldendoodle named Potter and a Feist mixed-breed named Gabbie.
One of her newest consignments is to make pottery adorned with the dome of the Mississippi Capitol Building in Jackson.
“I’m doing that for the gift shop at the Capitol Building,” she says. “A lot of people like to buy those for souvenirs and they also like the state Christmas tree ornaments.”
In fact, her most popular Christmas tree ornament is made in the shape of American states.
“I’ve probably done at least 25 different states now and will be doing more,” she says. “I like to get a Christmas ornament from every place I visit and other people seem to like that, too.”
Regardless of what kind of pottery she is making, Crowell says she feels blessed to have found the perfect niche in life.
“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,” she says. “I love it and realize every day how very fortunate I am.”