Ashley Norman’s introduction to molding clay was not intentional rather a requirement for graduating with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. For her, working in clay was intimidating at best terrifying at worst. She had to give up all control. She says clay is a constant reminder of how outside forces create change. You have to surrender to the elements and the process to create beauty.
Today you can witness the process and passion of Ashley throwing mud in downtown Winchester, Kentucky. Gone is that sense of trepidation replaced by the confidence of a master craftsman as she pinches, coils, slabs, pushes and pulls, tears, and manipulates her medium.
Ashley and fellow potter turned husband Carvel began firing and glazing in her grandfather’s old workshop. It was here they began curating items for the upstart Etsy, a handcrafted marketing and sales platform for artisans to showcase their talents and products. Their business grew as did the need for a larger space with a potential store front. In 2014, while attending the annual Beer Cheese Festival, the couple stumbled upon an absolute auction of a historic three floor building at 38 North Main Street.
Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up”
― Veronica Roth, Divergent
A year later the creative duo had purchased, renovated and settled into to their new home upstairs while opening their innovative made-from-scratch studio, Dirty South Pottery. Once again Ashley found herself surrendering to the process. While confident or as she said perhaps naïve the community would support their business, she was keenly aware of the risk of making and selling reusable goods. The community has been clearing the shelves ever since. Shelves that hold made-from-scratch pottery collections including: Kitchen + Table, Fireside, Watercolor, Mugs Mugs Mugs, Kentucky + Bourbon, along with made to order and other artisanal goods.
Ashley and Carvel have been credited with helping activate North Main Street, a blighted area at the time anchored only by the Leed’s Center for the Arts. Once empty buildings are now filled with businesses such as Arts on Main Gallery, Frames on Main, La Trattoria Italian Tavern, boutiques, and public art. Locals have branded the area NOMAD, North Main Arts District. They have also created two philanthropic endeavors, Scooped and Empty Bowls that benefit the Clark County Homeless Shelter and Clark County Community Services. One hundred percent of the money raised from these events benefits both charitable organizations.
With Dirty South Pottery, Ashley has built a handmade company with meaning. Here, she is The Lady of the South – owner, graphic designer, photographer, writer, visionary, activist and in her words an accidental leader. It seems Ashley Norman has become what she feared most. She has been the clay all along. A constant reminder of how outside forces create change. It’s a beautiful thing.