Rock and Roll
Clay artists create colorful and clever custom totems
By Jessica Laskey
Rock Bottom Clay Arts—the ceramic business owned by longtime friends Suzy Price and Linda Fall—is not named for low prices, nor for a low point in life.
“We named it Rock Bottom because the totems literally have a giant rock at the bottom that keeps them steady,” Fall explains with a chuckle.
Since last August, Fall and Price have created 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-foot ceramic structures they call totems—colorful displays of manmade rocks in all shapes, sizes and textures stacked together on a steel pole and rooted to a strong rock or welded metal base for display in the home or garden.
Neither women started their careers as artists. Price spent 30-plus years in advertising for The Sacramento Bee. Fall worked for Chase for 30 years before “banking burnout” landed her a second 15-year career fitting hearing aids for the elderly. But they’ve both embraced this new path with unbridled enthusiasm.
“I spend more time doing this every day than I ever spent at my corporate job,” Pocket-area resident Price says. “It’s always an adventure.”
Fall, who lives in Curtis Park, concurs. Although she finds the process much more restful than her friend. “Working on ceramics is so meditative,” she says.
In fact, it was Fall’s interest in the art form that got the duo started in the first place. A lifelong art lover, Fall decided to take a pottery class at the Panama Pottery arts collective and found that the soothing, methodic work fit her personality perfectly. She convinced Price—whom she’s known since both women were in their 20s—to take a crack at the class and now they share a love of clay that didn’t take long to blossom into a business.
“We were taking a class on totem making,” Fall recalls, “and my teacher looked at mine and said, ‘Someone will want to buy that.’ I replied, ‘For how much?’” Fall laughs. “I realized that maybe people would like these enough that I could sell them.”
After procuring the proper business licenses—“a fulltime job in and of itself,” Price says—the friends got to making. Each totem can take more than 20 hours to craft—not counting the more than 22 hours it takes to bake each piece in a kiln—and with commissions starting to roll in, Price and Fall are suddenly swamped in the best way possible.
“I sometimes wonder what we did with our time before this,” says Price, who works the clay daily after getting design inspiration while driving. “We’re always thinking of new things.”
The totems are created as a joint effort, with both women suggesting pieces to put on the pole and discussing the layout as they go. Each piece is completely unique and depends on the client’s desires—a preferred color scheme is always taken into consideration—as well as the totem’s height and intended usage.
Because the pieces are weather-resistant, they can be placed outside in a garden or they can elegantly complement an interior. Fall has many in her spacious yard, including some of their newer Totem Pops, which are only 2-feet tall and look wonderful clustered together. Each piece is customized for the buyer, such as the paw print and name of a beloved pet or a symbol of someone’s field of work etched into the clay. Thanks to the totems’ clever design that mimics stringing beads on a necklace—which can be done or undone in a matter of minutes—they can easily be moved to a new location if the mood strikes.
“People are staying home more than they used to,” Fall says, “so why not decorate your space with something that makes you feel happy every time you look at it?”
Prices range from $30 to $425. For more information, visit rockbottomclayarts.com.