Follow your bliss: The journey of a Eugene potter
On her first night as a pizza delivery driver in 1989, 18-year-old Amy Palatnick got mugged at knifepoint.
A week later she was in a car accident.
Piece by piece, the overachieving pre-med student began to crumble to bits.
In an effort to regain control of her life, she took a quiet job at the Wesleyan University Library. During a late night shift, she picked up a book by Joseph Campbell called, “The Power of Myth.” Flipping to a random page, Palatnick read the line that she said changed her life forever — “Follow your bliss.”
“At that moment, nothing but those three words mattered,” Palatnick said. “I realized that’s why all of this was happening. I was on the wrong track. I’m not following my bliss.”
Amy Palatnick followed her bliss all the way to Eugene, Oregon. It took some time, but ultimately, her calling came in the form of clay.
According to Palatnick, studying pre-med in college wasn’t for her. So, she changed her major. She said she hated the idea of sitting through another science class — she wanted to be an artist.
From then on, Palatnick set out to change her life for the better. She went from failing biology classes to thriving in art classes and reading about East Asian religion.
Palatnick didn’t feel the need for parental approval when she made her life-altering change, she said. Her parents divorced when she was 10, and though they were supportive, after all of the family drama she felt they were not in a position to raise her. So, she raised herself.
“I wanted to bring myself to prove something to somebody,” Palatnick said. “It was really important to me to be impressive.”
She thought that becoming a doctor would impress people, but she wasn’t passionate about the medical field. She wanted to finally do something for herself, she said. After graduating with a degree in Religious Studies from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she reached out to several people hoping to find a job as an artist.
A few months later in 1992, she packed up her life and took a pottery apprenticeship making $4 an hour at Walt Glass Pottery in McQueeney, Texas. She was comfortable around pottery because she felt there was a beauty and an art to making functional things like cups and bowls. By making these essential household utensils, she could make both art and a living.
In Texas, Palatnick worked as a thrower — a potter who shapes clay using a pottery wheel. She was an apprentice to Thanhbinh “Tea” Duong and developed her skills in a production pottery environment. Out of the 12 potters working at Walt Glass Pottery, Palatnick was the only female. She loved the attention it got her, but Palatnick said the women who worked as glazers ignored her and consistently glared at her — she thought they were jealous.
“One day I had to spend seven or eight hours with all of those women and they ignored me the whole day,” Palatnick said. “They never spoke to me. The only adversity I faced was from other women.”
By the end of her apprenticeship, she and Duong had developed a thriving pottery business together and decided to move northwest. They went to pick up their U-Haul but hadn’t decided where to go.
“They gave us a map of the Northwest because we had to pick a place to drop the U-Haul off,” Palatnick said of the U-Haul employees. “We looked between Northern California and Seattle, and right there in the middle was Eugene.”
Eugene was the perfect place for Palatnick to continue her journey, she said. She felt it was so full of life and artistically centered. Eugene’s love for the arts hasn’t changed since. According to a study done by the nonprofit, Americans for the Arts, Eugene dedicates twice as much money to the arts as a city of comparable size.
Since her apprenticeship, Palatnick has developed a relationship with many Eugene residents. She runs a Facebook page and holds sales in her front yard every few months. She grew a large customer base as a local artisan at the Saturday Market. Originally, Palatnick planned to keep moving around, but after having a daughter, she said she felt Eugene was the best place to stay and put down roots.
“There is such a spirit of supporting artistry here,” Palatnick said of Eugene.
Over the years Palatnick said she is proud to have developed a style that is easily recognizable. She creates her work in her home-based studio surrounded by calming colo
rs and lots of natural light. Palatnick exclusively uses the color of clay in her designs. She glazes portions of her pottery and leaves others bare so that the natural red and brown color of the clay can be seen. She also makes her own color glazes from scratch to give herself an artistic edge. For Palatnick, pottery is more important than simply making pretty things. After her lifelong journey to find her artistic way and become a spiritual person, she said her pots are an extension of herself; they hold her love and are able to carry that energy to others.
Palatnick said she works hard to make her pots with love because to her, pottery is so much more than hardened clay.
“I feel like it’s so important that when we eat off something that is made with love,” Palatnick said, “It reminds us of the sacredness of life.”
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