March Artists of the Month, Karen and Robert Podd of the Poddery


The year was 1972 when Karen and Robert Podd bought a 125-year-old farmhouse and 20 acres in Mathews County. As they began the years-long restoration of the house and property, Carole King’s “Tapestry” was playing on the first of several turntables, all of which eventually gave out because there was so much clay dust in the air.

After their decision to give up city life in Norfolk—he worked for the Housing Authority and she taught in the public school system—and settle in rural Mathews, it took a year and a half to find just the right property with a house and room to build a pottery studio. The old house was in rough condition, painted on only 3 sides, with hog hair plaster walls and a tiny winter kitchen with 2 inches of peanut shells covering the floor. 

It was the book The Ghosts of Mathews County that got some of Karen’s students at Granby High School intrigued enough about the area to volunteer to come help with the restoration. Boys wielded sledgehammers and girls brought food and cleared brush, as the couple and their young assistants worked every weekend for five years to bring the old property back to life. Robert installed plumbing and electricity, and once they could live in the house, the focus turned to building a pottery studio.

Karen had taken ceramics classes at Northern Illinois University, and while living in Norfolk, she’d attended classes at the Chrysler Museum School as a way to have access to a potter’s wheel and kiln. Eventually, she began teaching classes there. A studio on the Mathews property meant that she’d have every­thing she needed to make pottery, which she could then sell at events up and down the east coast, such as the Ghent Art Show and the Boardwalk Art Show.

But it was when the Norfolk Ledger Star ran an article about the couple with the headline, “Professionals Give Up Careers to Move to Sticks,” that things exploded. Next thing they knew, “People began calling us up, wanting to see the studio and our pottery,” Karen laughs. “So, with help from the kids who’d helped us before, some of whom were in college by then, we got busy building a showroom.” Riffing on their last name, Podd, they dubbed it “The Poddery” and welcomed guests in seven days a week.

Once they started a family in the mid-80s, they ceased doing art shows—Robert claimed that the pottery got heavier with each show—preferring to focus on selling their pottery from their showroom. Oven-safe, microwave-safe and dishwasher-safe, their high-fired stoneware is available in almost any object they or their clients can imagine, from fireplace fronts to birdhouses to high-relief walls. “We’ve done a lot of full dinnerware sets,” Karen says. “For a while, honey pots were big and now they’re back in again. In the early years, people didn’t know what steamers were for, but once steaming became mainstream, they got popular, too.”

Although pottery-making was originally Karen’s passion, she taught Robert how to throw and now he’s responsible for making many of the standard production pieces, such as coffee mugs and beer mugs, while she focuses on more intricate pieces like teapots, objects with fitted lids and large-scale decorative pieces. And while both glaze the pottery before it goes to the kiln, it’s Robert who does the firing. During the summer, they’re busy firing every 10 days, producing 175 pieces each time in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season. “Because we sold so much pottery in Tidewater, our pieces have ended up all over the world, from Germany to Japan,” Karen says. “They were taken there by friends stationed overseas.”

With the Poddery currently in its sixth decade, Karen’s seen how the art community in Mathews has grown, with well-known painters and printmakers in residence. She attributes the county’s attraction for artists to its abundant natural beauty. “Living here keeps my design sense earthy and natural,” she explains of the ongoing inspiration. “I see how a vine grows and think of how that would make a great handle.” The couple’s work is available at Bay Community School Arts Center in Mathews as well as at their showroom, which remains open daily.

“I’m thankful that this has been our regular job, and for 50 years, we’ve been able to make our living on our art,” she says with pride. “We were in the right place at the right time. It starts a chain reaction once people begin buying your work.” 

 By Karen Newton

Local Scoop Magazine

View the Podd's collection!!