Last, but not least, in our “Meet the Staff” series, we introduce our PotteryWorks Program Director, Rachel Zahniser-Cranston. Rachel leads our team by helping generate big picture ideas (like this blog!), creating beautiful new pottery, communicating with customers, and intentionally staying in the loop with each of us staff through one-on-one meetings. She also is a great friend, a gifted artist, and a wonderful person to work with. Read on to learn more about her background, her love for banana smoothies, and some future aspirations.
Amanda: Hey Rachel!
Rachel: Hey Amanda!
A: How are you doing today?
R: [holds up hands and gives two thumbs up]
A: Two thumbs up, alrighty! Let’s start with some basics. Where are you from?
R: I’m from Greenville, Illinois, a small town in Illinois. Before I lived there I lived in the Denver, Colorado area. That was a formative place in my childhood, but I feel like I’m from Greenville because that’s where I’ve lived the longest in my life. And it’s where my parents live, so it’s a home base.
A: Did you come then from Greenville to here [Wichita]?
R: After I went to college in Greenville, IL, I got married to Josh Cranston and we moved to Oslo, Norway for a year, where Josh did a Fulbright scholarship and I lived and worked there. And we skied a lot and made good friends. And then we really didn’t know what to do after that. We didn’t have career aspirations, really, and we couldn’t decide where to move. So Wichita was an option. And we ended up putting our options into a hat and drawing one out and it was Wichita. And we sat with that for a week and both felt good about that, so we decided to move here. And we’ve been here for three years.
A: That’s an unusual way to decide a big life step like that.
R: Yeah. I guess so. I think that worked for us because Josh wanted Wichita and I wanted North Carolina, where some of our friends were moving. And we just couldn’t decide. So that helped us just pick one. So yeah, it’s unusual but it worked.
A: What were some of your main interests while growing up?
R: I really liked to be active. I loved sports and hiking and running around and playing and flipping. I did gymnastics and soccer. I really didn’t know any other sports existed though, until I moved and people played like basketball on a team. I don’t know why, but I just zeroed in on soccer and gymnastics. I was also really into crafty things and art. My mom was pretty crafty so I did stuff with her. I also read and danced. On Saturdays I’d turn on my boom box and dance in the mirror.
A: Did your sister have similar interests?
R: We played together a lot. Imaginary games and stuff. But we’re four years apart so sometimes there was a clash and her being the younger, annoying sister. But yeah, I think fondly of my childhood as lots of time of play. I kind of ignore the hard parts when I look back, because there were those too.
A: When did you first learn about pottery?
R: I did kind of take a class in high school, and loved art class in junior high. When I got to high school, the art teacher was kind of mean, and actually seemed to have a vendetta against me. I don’t know why. I think she preferred the moody, odd, eccentric students who would like draw teddy bears with their heads cut off and stuff. And I was…not as unusual. I think I was also talkative and got on her nerves. All that to say, I did not have a good experience learning pottery from her. So I got to college and really wanted to take a pottery class. I wasn’t an art major, but took the Intro to Design class and then got to take the pottery class. That was really fun and I really liked glazing. I didn’t get a lot of instruction throwing on the wheel, but I tried it out on my own and had fun. Then after I moved to Wichita, Meme asked if I wanted to help her with PotteryWorks and so I started throwing again and she started teaching me, and it’s been fun.
A: Were you excited/nervous about taking on the responsibility of being the Director of PotteryWorks?
R: At the time when Meme asked me, I did not know that that would be my role. And I still don’t totally feel like the director. I still consult Meme on lots of things. But I was at a place in my other job that I was feeling like I needed to leave. It was really draining me and not a source of joy. So when Meme asked me, I was so excited for the opportunity, one that sounded more life-giving. I think I do this a lot–I don’t think about what it’s actually going to be like. I kind of idealize and think “Yes! I’ll do it!” and then I get there and it’s “Oh, this was harder than I expected.” But I think in way that it’s good, because I may not do things if I know what it’s really going to be like.
A: That makes sense. I don’t think any of us can necessarily predict the challenges that come.
R: Yeah, it seems to be part of human nature.
A: What has been a favorite part of working for PotteryWorks?
R: I love having youth come and getting to be with them everyday. And just get to see them grown in their skills. Getting to hear about their life, being part of their journeys is very fun. And I love seeing our pottery finished. My favorite thing is to open the kiln, to pick out our glazed pottery and see how all of it turned out!
A: That’s one my favorite parts too.
R: Some of the parts of the process can be a little mundane, so the end result is exciting. I’ve also really enjoyed getting better at throwing on the wheel. That’s a source of struggle. I guess it’s still kind of hard, ‘cause I don’t do it everyday. But it has been fun, for the most part, to keep getting better.
A: Do you have a favorite thing to make?
R: I think I like making mugs. Because even though it can be tedious to pull a handle and wait the right amount of time for it it dry, it’s fun to attach it and see it all finished and together. So when I have the time, I really enjoy making a hand-thrown mug look really good.
A: What are some of your other interests hobbies?
R: Currently, I don’t do any of my hobbies. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of hobbies, mostly to do with arts and crafts and cooking. But I enjoy playing soccer and ultimate frisbee. And I spend a lot of my time studying, because I’m trying to get into graduate school for psychology. So that has sort of taken over my time for hobbies, which is okay for now.
A: If you did have time, what kinds of art projects would you like to work on?
R: Oo, good question. I think if I had time I’d like to get better at watercolor painting. It’s so beautiful and I love the way that the water spreads on the paper and the way the colors blend. I also started on an embroidery project and would like to learn more about that. Another thing I’d like to learn more about would be fermenting vegetables. Making sauerkraut and kimchi would be fun. I would go hiking more, especially if there were more places to hike around here.
A: Yeah. When I was at Pawnee Prairie Park recently, I was reminded of how nice that place is and thinking we should go back. What is your favorite music?
R: It’s hard to say a favorite overall. I really like the Beatles and Sufjan Stevens. And right now I listen to Chris Staples a lot, as you probably know. And the Tallest Man on Earth is an all-time favorite. Well, “all-time” since I started listening to him in high school.
A: And a favorite food?
R: I really like chocolate. I don’t eat it much but I like it. And I really like sweet potatoes. I really like banana smoothies.
A: With just bananas?
R: Mm, bananas, and maybe a nut butter and milk, or ice cream from Little Lion, and maybe cocoa powder. But just for something more healthy to my list of favorites, I will add black bean soup. It’s so good.
A: What are some of your future aspirations?
R: I would like to live on Mars [laughs]. No, just kidding. I can’t really relate to people who say they want to live on Mars. I like Earth a lot! I want to be a children’s therapist or psychologist. So I’m working really hard towards that. That’s kind of the main thing on the horizon, but I just would like to be a more loving person. I guess a future goal is to always work towards that.
A: Hmmm. Word.
R: I don’t think about that usually. I’m more focused on getting to graduate school. But that’s a goal.
A: That’s an inspiration to us all. Thanks Rachel!
Also, a little side note: many new pottery pieces that have been hand thrown by Rachel and other staff (as well as dinnerware, mugs, and more, made by the youth) are now for sale in our local shop (set up in our studio here in Wichita) as well as available online through our Etsy shop. Come see us in person Monday-Thursday 3:30-6pm or check us out online! 🙂