BRYAN, Texas —
Alone in her shop, Joy Pottery, longtime artist Rachel Norris crouches over a potter’s wheel. Sunlight streams into the studio from large windows overlooking a pond.The whisper of wind chimes, hung on a tree just outside, ebbs and flows, mixing with the whir of her wheel. Trained hands smooth lumps of twirling clay at a dizzying pace.
“I make it look easy,” Norris says, molding a shapeless mound of clay into an intricate bowl in seconds. “It’s not.”
Here in her potter’s house, just off Old Reliance Road, up against a pasture often filled with cows, Norris transforms formless heaps of clay into functional art. In the nearly four decades of her career, she’s made countless bowls, pitchers, platters, mugs and more.
“I like to make pottery people will use,” Norris said. “In fact this whole process of making things is completed for me when people are using the things that I make. It’s not just about the way that they look. I want them to be a part of people’s lives.”
Norris’s love for the craft took shape early on.
“I’ve always loved to make things,” Norris said. “Ever since I was a little girl I always loved to make things. It’s part of the way God made me.”
For Norris, pottery is more than a profession, more than a passion. It’s a constant reminder of God’s grace, and a way to share it with others.
For nearly three decades, the Bryan-based Potter has traveled the country sharing her Christian testimony the best way she knows how - with a wheel and a lump of clay. She’s shared her story with thousands.
“Nobody is more surprised than me that I do that,” Norris said. “It’s not a script I would’ve written for myself.”
Norris’s unforeseen path into public speaking began in her mid-twenties when, after working in upstate New York and Arizona for several years, the young potter returned to her family’s homestead in Bryan, TX, dejected and “completely broke”. The artist in residence (of sorts) moved upstairs and began making pottery in her father’s garage.
“It was a time for me for seeking God,” Norris said. “I was in a transition in my life where I was letting go of things, a lot of rebellion I grew up with.”
Born to missionaries in Hong Kong, Norris grew to resent her upbringing and distanced herself from the Christian foundation her parents had worked to instill during her childhood.
“That journey, anger and rebellion will take you somewhere that often you never intended to go,” Norris said. “And that’s what happened to me.”
In her father’s garage, often sitting at her potter’s wheel, Norris reflected on the Bible and rediscovered the God of her youth. In particular, she explored the passages comparing God to a potter, and his people to clay.
“In my life, clay has always been an integral part of that journey,” Norris said. “The amazing thing is that he began to reveal himself through the pottery making process.”
Her brother soon took notice of her renewed faith in God and asked Norris to speak to his Sunday school class. Shy and weary of speaking publicly, she shot him down almost immediately. But, after reflecting on God’s role in her life, took a leap of faith.
“I felt like God was giving me an opportunity,” Norris said. “And I thought ‘Do you mean it? I mean God, do you really mean it?’ and he said ‘Try me’.”
Norris did speak to her brother’s class. But, just out of obedience.
“That one led to another which led to another and it took on a life of its own,” Norris said.
Now, 25 years later, Norris travels the country, her pottery wheel in tow, sharing her testimony at least once a week. Just two months into the new year and Norris is completely booked into May 2020.
“So many pots to make and so little time,” Norris said. “That’s just where my heart is. I love it.”