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
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
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
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.