Words from the Artist: Sydney Williams
My love for plants started in my mom’s garden. I wasn’t that interested in her perennial flowers at the time, but she let me pick out a couple pepper and tomato plants. I would check on the tiny green peppers and tomatoes every day, fascinated by the fact that I could plant something and watch it grow an actual edible vegetable.
My interest in plants, especially veggie plants, only grew as I got older. After starting out studying Environmental Science in college, I transferred to Appalachian State in Boone, NC to enter their Sustainable Agriculture program. They had a beautiful working farm with livestock, a greenhouse, and a myriad of vegetable and other crops. I fell in love with the idea of becoming a farmer. My classes were inspiring, and I loved learning about plant biology, soil science, and animal husbandry, as well as environmental philosophy and sustainability.
Upon graduating, I started down the path of actually becoming a farmer. I spent two years working on two very different farms (one was 25 acres of veggies, and the other 2 acres of veggies and a small amount of various livestock), and in short, these experiences were a major reality check. I knew farming would be an extremely challenging career, but still I underestimated the reality of it. The hours are very long, and the repetitive labor is unending and hard on the body. I saw firsthand how incredibly difficult it is to make a reliable living (either as a farmowner or a farmworker), and the stress which that precariousness creates. I will forever have a very deep appreciation for all farmers and farmworkers.
I’ve skipped over my introduction to pottery. On a whim, I took a pottery class one of my last semesters of college. I quickly became totally obsessed, spending as much time as possible in the studio. After that semester, I continued my new pottery practice through a couple community classes, but when I left Boone I put pottery on the back burner. I had no real intention of returning to it anytime soon, as I didn’t see how it could fit into my life.
However, after getting burned out by working as a farmworker, I decided to return to pottery. It immediately felt like the right decision. I hadn’t had access to a studio for years, and it felt so good to sit down at a wheel again. After a year of working at a studio in Vermont, I decided to return to Asheville to pursue my pottery practice more seriously.
I never lost my love for growing things, and I really missed it. But I didn’t feel motivated to start a garden, because I wasn’t sure how long I would live in my rental house. So I started acquiring houseplants to fill that void. I found it so satisfying to take care of them, and I loved having so much greenery growing around me. I always thought that growing decorative plants was frivolous. But I came to realize that they just have a different purpose. I know for myself that they are great for my mental health, especially during the winter, and they clean the air!
I quickly realized that my new houseplant hobby married quite nicely with my pottery practice. I started out making planters by accident. Any pot that came out flawed became a planter. And as a novice potter, I made a lot of flawed pots! But as I got more into houseplants, I started intentionally making planters, at first just for my own use. I certainly wasn’t gonna buy them when I could make them myself! I tweaked them slightly with every new batch, using my knowledge of plant care to perfect my designs.
At shows and at my studio, I often sell planters already planted. To be honest, it’s largely an excuse for me to grow plants! I’m no longer watching tiny veggies developing day by day, but watching a new leaf unfurl or a flower blossom brings me the same joy I felt as a little kid in my mom’s garden. It’s so rewarding to me to think that my pottery is introducing people to the joy of growing plants!