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Zpots Creates Pottery, Sustainability and a Smaller Footprint

Zpots, a pottery studio, is located in Brookline, Vermont. (Courtesy photos)

George Harvey

Zpots is a pottery studio in Brookline, Vermont. It was founded in January 2001 by Noelle VanHendrick and Eric Hendrick, who had studied ceramics together at the University of West Virginia and had long known that they wanted to support themselves “producing art and furthering craft.”

The pottery they make is all hand-thrown, hand inscribed, and hand painted. It is bisque fired at 1900°F, and glaze fired at 2200ºF.

Historically, there has been much more to Zpots than the details of its wares. Noelle and Eric have been extraordinarily careful to see that they not damage the world we all live in, and they continue to make pottery that is as safe as possible for human use.

From the time their business started, when the electric utility in Brookline was CVPS, they have used Cow Power to power all phases of their business. There is a lot of electricity involved because all four of the kilns they use for regular production are electric, and they usually do two firings each day. The kilns are not exactly small, at twelve to fourteen cubic feet each. That makes them roughly the size of a refrigerator, though they are short and wide by comparison.

Noelle told us, Zpots is getting more and more sustainable. She said, “Anything that we can do, any program we can be involved with is a step in the right direction.” In fact, she and Eric want to do even more, saying “Hopefully more programs will be introduced that we can be part of.”

We might even say that the electricity used to heat the kilns does double duty, because the residual heat from firing stays in the building, supplying the heat for the studio. The building contains the office, the photography studio, library, and lunch room, all above the studio, and the heat from the studio rises into it, keeping it as warm as needed. So, the heat itself is reused.

We should bear in mind that nearly all materials used in ceramics are mined, as nearly all of them are clay of one type or another. The footprint on the environment need not be large, however. And the materials are mined from abundant deposits.

Noelle told us, “Everything that we make and all the materials come from Standard Ceramic in Pittsburg. We have used them ever since we were in college, all the materials are mined in the U.S. Clay is a mining process, but we recycle. We formulate the clear glaze in house, but we use commercial colors, we use commercial color that are safe for kindergartners.” She also noted that since most of the Zpots customers were buying wholesale and reselling the products, they needed certifications of safety, and that is far easier if all the source materials are already certified.

A pot made at Zpots shows their connection to the earth.

Unsurprisingly, Noelle and Eric recently decided to reduce their dependence on outside electricity supplies, even though they were buying Cow Power. They got together with their local solar business owners Simon Piluski and Victoria Roberts at Southern Vermont Solar, who set them up with a system that would work well for them. It is a 13.2-kilowatt (DC) system with 33 LG 400-watt panels. It uses Enphase IQ7PLUS microinverters and includes two Tesla Powerwalls.

Noelle and Eric were surprised at how much more energy could come from their roof with the higher wattage panels that are available today. It now made sense financially and ecologically – it was time to go solar! The array covers all of the south-facing roof of the studio building. As big as that system is, however, it does not supply all of the power needed by Zpots, which continues to use Cow Power for what it cannot produce. The system is grid tied, however, and can bank energy either in its own batteries or in credits that are maintained by Green Mountain Power. In fact, Victoria Roberts told us the array was cash positive from day one with a VSECU loan. GMP is the owner of the batteries and is leasing them to Zpots.

Right now, Zpots has three artisan employees. That number has been up to nine before the pandemic struck. In addition, they have two packers.

The business is primarily wholesale, with a self-serve barn. Zpots is now working on opening a store on Main Street in Brattleboro, but the goods will include more than pottery. Everything in the store will be designed by Zpots, and everything will be made locally in ways that are as green as possible, but the offerings will include cards, T-shirts, pillows, hats, jewelry, and more.

Zpots website is zpots.com.

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