More than marketing
May 17, 2018
Whether it’s drawing, painting, or pottery, Barbra Mulholland loves it all. Barbra has been drawn to all forms of art ever since college, but the one medium that she never professionally studied was the one she desired to immerse herself in the most- ceramics.
“When I went to college, I studied advertising design and marketing,” Mulholland said. “I always wanted to get into pottery, and that was not a course I could take in college. That would be like extra credits, and it didn’t count towards my graduation, so I was really always drawn to working in clay.”
Photo Credit: Jenny DeStefano
From storage room to studio
A few years after having her third child, Megan, in 2001, Barbra decided to shave down her corporate hours and take up a pottery class at a private studio in Midland Park once per week. There, she gained the cognitive tools and hands-on experience necessary to begin immersing herself further into the medium of clay.
Barbra continued balancing her corporate work schedule with weekly pottery classes for approximately the next two years, before she made the decision to take the next step in her ceramics journey. She purchased a pottery wheel and kiln of her very own to install in the basement of her house, thus commencing the start of her renovation process to transform a storage room into a studio.
“Investing in that was pretty much the price of two years taking classes, but now I could do it every day,” Mulholland said. “I wasn’t limited to just being able to go there once a week for three hours and really miss it, so that’s why I put it in my own house.”
Photo Credit: Barbra Mulholland
Growing a company
The first step in establishing her enterprise was naming it. Barbra initially struggled to come up with a name, as she wanted one that accurately encompassed all that her company had to offer without limiting it to just one form of art. Oddly enough, the solution to this dilemma is her son, Shane. With an accurate name for her company, Art City Studio, it was time for Barb to start developing a brand.
By customizing both pre-fired (known as bisqueware) and handmade clay pieces, Barbra is able to incorporate her own personal spin onto her products. One way that Barbra adds her personality into items is through her signature font: a style with dots on the end of each letter.
According to ceramics teacher, Mara Siegel, consumers frequently choose homemade pottery like Barbra’s rather than commercially-made pieces because of the unique styles that only independent artists can create- the “print of the artist.”
“You can look at something and see that clearly an artist made that piece,” Siegel said. “This is something that I tell the students: If you want perfect, go to Pottery Barn.”
Barbra utilized her signature design styles while working with senior citizens in retirement homes. Both a good way to spread passion for art into the community and an opportunity to hone her skills, Barbra enjoyed glazing with the elderly weekly for nearly three years.
Barbra circulated her teaching between about four assisted living locations, bringing along numerous ceramic pieces to each one.
“I emailed to all the senior citizen facilities in the area to teach older people art, because they usually don’t get the opportunity to get out, and a lot of them don’t have cars,” she said. “It really brought a lot of happiness to people, to be able to glaze and make something that’s functional.”
Photo Credit: Barbra Mulholland
With her primary job in the advertising industry, Barbra uses her marketing skills to her advantage as an entrepreneur. By creating personalized social media accounts and a custom website for her company, Barbra manages to promote her business offerings across town. She also gains new customers through word-of-mouth, and promotional opportunities such as the annual Glen Rock Fall Festival in September.
Occasionally, Barb holds an art party in her home, inviting her professional friends to showcase many different art mediums. She supplies partygoers with her own pottery skill and knowledge, among the expertise of jewelry makers, painters, and more.
From Girl Scouts to Girls’ Night, Barbra expands Art City Studio’s reach further to different locations, where she teaches beginner and advanced ceramic students alike how to work with both bisqueware and clay.
One such student is GRHS sophomore Isis Kirkland, who attended Barbra’s classes for a few months after getting connected through Girl Scouts and her peer, Megan Mulholland. Kirkland gained her only ceramic experience to date through Barbra and enjoyed her intimate teaching style.
“The overall experience is just better with Barbra,” Kirkland said. “At a place like Color Me Mine, it’s more of a robotic thing, but Barbra genuinely cares about what you’re doing and how you do it. You can tell she’s really passionate about art.”
Playing in clay
When it was first implemented in 2010, Barbra’s studio was a smash hit among her children. Each day, Barbra and her kids were constantly glazing and playing with the professional clay and tools. Nearly eight years later, her studio’s entertainment skills remain successful among her children, especially with her daughter Megan.
“When she first was done with the studio, she invited my brothers and I to come down and play with the clay. She basically allows me and my brothers and my family members to go in there whenever we want,” Megan said. “I do make pottery in her studio. It’s like if you were to take a class at another place, but in my own basement.”
According to Megan, having Barbra’s studio open at all times appears to have encouraged all three kids’ fervor for art. Barbra even employs her daughter at times for assistance with large orders and parties. Her older son, Ian, is going to college for art, and younger son, Shane, expresses his interest in design through his projects on display throughout their house.
“I encourage my kids to be in the studio as much as possible. I think art is extremely important in anybody’s life, no matter what type of art it is,” Mulholland said. “I think it’s really important to have that outlet away from the phones. Put some good music on and just be creative! It’s amazing how you can get yourself so lost in just that freedom.”
By seeing her mother’s investments in art from a young age, Barbra’s artistic influence on Megan has caused her to become interested in becoming an animator and entering the art field professionally.
“Since she made her own company, it inspires me to do really what I want to do in life, and not worry about where I’m going to end up,” Megan said. “Her job inspires me to really do what I enjoy.”
Reflecting on her investment’s influence on both her children and the community alike, Barbra admits that getting creative is her favorite pastime. Her only regret is that she didn’t start sooner.
“It’s very rewarding and very fulfilling to be appreciated that way, by something that you make with your hands,” Mulholland said. “I enjoy making things for people, and I would’ve loved to have been sharing that a lot earlier, and teaching people- I love doing that.”