Handmade in Pescadero
Half Moon Bay Review, August 17, 2005

By Stacy Trevenon


The tiny shop sits on the edge of the ollalieberry field at Phipps Ranch in Pescadero. It is almost obscured by trees.

Inside, a soothing whir surrounds Tom Shuman, who is hunched over his potter's wheel. His clay-encrusted hands gently cup a still-wet little brown pot spinning almost too fast for the eye to follow.

Apparently satisfied, he stops the wheel, sits back and glances out the open window. Cool breeze wafts in.

"I feel really blessed here," he says.

Just as he was in his previous shop adjacent to the San Gregorio General Store, where Shuman created pottery between 1986 and 2001, he says he is now living "the pottery life. I get up, have my coffee, and my work is right there under my nose."

This new pot, once fired and glazed, will take its place on one of the shelves among cups, mugs, bowls, pitchers, raku pieces, plates decorated with Native American motifs and ceramic bells with ceramic clappers.

This weekend, it all goes down to the I.D.E.S. grounds and the Pescadero Arts and Fun Festival where Shuman is one of many local artisans showing and selling work.

Browsers stopping by Shuman's booth might find it hard to choose. The cups and bowls blend usefulness with rich, deeply saturated color. The raku cups and vases look elegant and quirky, with spidery patterns and glassy hues.

The bells are unique. Up to 24 inches in size, they are the only pieces that Shuman does not glaze, leaving their textures rough and natural. He says that leaving them that way "gets a better tone. A hell of a tone."

For Shuman, pottery has been a lifelong love affair. But getting to this idyllic place was a long journey - with a frightening epiphany.

It all began in second grade, while Shuman was growing up in Mountain View. "I remember forming stuff by hand, how cool that was," he said.

He took a ceramics course in his sophomore year at Mountain View High School and found it "a hobby I greatly enjoyed." But he also played football, and got ribbed about his divergent interests.

The clay won out: "I had more of a bohemian and hippie leaning."

He found work on the Peninsula as a purchasing agent for an electronics company but kept one hand on the potter's wheel. He took pottery classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and apprenticed for two years with potter Al Johnsen, who had run the UCSC ceramics department.

The chief lesson he got from Johnsen had to do with philosophy, not pottery. "He had impeccable technique," Shuman said.

In 1984 he left his lucrative office job. "I had to get out for my mental health," he said.

He followed his heart to Pescadero. A relative suggested he seek ranch work from Tom Phipps.

He did, and it was an odd picture: "It was after work and I had slacks on, a button-down shirt, and probably cologne," he said.

But he got hired, at $5 an hour.

His family thought he was nuts to leave his job, he said. But he was on a path.

Shuman had a string of jobs: he worked for Tom Phipps for a year, tended bar at Duarte's Tavern and at Gazos Creek, and managed the San Gregorio General Store. But all the while, he rented a former blacksmith's shop in San Gregorio to make and sell his pottery.

Then fate struck in 1988. While riding his motorcycle, he was hit by a car. The accident shifted his priorities.

"I realized it was time to bust my butt in my shop," he said.

He set up a small shop near the San Gregorio General Store and focused on pottery there for 15 years. In 2001 he returned to Pescadero, which was "always close to my heart."

Now, with Ruby Munson, his partner of four years, he plans to spruce up the shop and add shelves.

"When I'm done, it will be gorgeous," he said.

He sells his pottery at Luna Sea and Made in Pescadero in town and also at the ranch. Since 2001 he has also tended bar at Duarte's Tavern, and calls himself at home.

"I am enthusiastic about Pescadero. I love it," he said. "The community is supportive of me, and I'm supportive of it."

And as for the naysayers in his family, who thought he was crazy to leave his job?

"This is a unique lifestyle I love. I'm blessed," he said. "They don't think I'm crazy now. I'm glad I listened to that intuition. This was what was meant to be."

Copyright 2005 Half Moon Bay Review and Pescadero Pebble.


Phipps Country Store and Farm
2700 Pescadero Rd., Pescadero, CA 94060  (650) 879-1032  (650) 879-1132 (Fax)