Last November, just before the inaugural Verde Valley Pottery Festival, the festival’s founder and ceramicist, Ben Roti had anxiety along with sleepless nights wondering, “What if nobody comes?” His wife Kami’s prolific words, “What if everyone comes?” resonated throughout the two-day event, which provided comic relief when more than 750 people attended.
It was evident that the pottery festival was a success. So much so, that Roti and his band of potters eagerly agreed to do it again for a second year.
“As we were trying to navigate our plans, D.A.Ranch reached out to me and said that they'd like to donate wine again this year,” Roti explained. “And I had shared with them that we're kind of in limbo, but that I would keep them posted. They responded immediately with, “We would love to host your event and sounds like a really neat partnership.” And so, it took off from there.”
This time around, it was Roti’s prolific words that magically created this serendipitous partnership.
“It's funny, I had sent a picture message to my wife a year ago, as I picked up the wine at D.A.Ranch. I had never been to D.A. before, and the leaves were changing — it was so reminiscent of the Midwest,” Roti noted. “You do not feel like you're in Arizona at all. I took a picture, and I got my car, and I sent it to Kami saying, “Wouldn't it be awesome if this is where the pottery festival was?”
Alexis Petznick, D.A.Ranch brand manager couldn’t agree more. “Our family is thrilled to host the upcoming Verde Valley Pottery Festival. We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate, and look forward to welcoming the artists and festival guests to D.A.Ranch,” she said.
The original idea for the festival came about when Roti and four other potters gathered for the Sedona Visual Artists Coalition Open Studio Tour in April 2022.
“We were just talking about doing something bigger. I’ve always thought about this wonderful acre property that I have; we could just set out tables, a big tent and we could invite the community,” Roti said. “And so that’s what started it.”
Roti said that a week later, he called fellow potters Jason Bohnert, Heather Spontak and Jeff Heeg, who were “his core three” who participated in the studio tour with him and helped him plan the November event. “One of the most difficult things was finding the funds to really make sure that it can be successful,” Roti stated. “And I’m super grateful for the sponsors of the event because they are truly the reason that we’re able to make it as large and as inclusive as possible. We’re artists and we’re just getting by, so I was nervous.”
While Roti’s nerves have calmed down a bit, he has a whole new set of stressors to worry about. Since the location is not as close to his home, planning becomes more of an issue. He says that many people have offered to help as volunteers which he is very grateful for.
Roti is used to surrounding himself with a community gathering. It’s in his DNA. He was inspired to bring his village of potters that he has come to know over the years and share it with the greater community of the Verde Valley.
Roti is originally from Spirit Lake, Iowa, where he attended the University of Iowa and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ceramics. Upon graduation, Roti accepted a position as a studio assistant to Don Reitz [1929-2014], a world-renowned potter who lived and worked in Clarkdale, eventually becoming his protégé. Reitz had always instilled the community atmosphere that Roti has imbued.
Included in this year’s Verde Valley Pottery Festival are ceramic artists Mike Upp, from Cornville; Jason Bohnert, Rena Hamilton, and Jason Hess, from Flagstaff; Magda Gluszek, from Show Low; Andrew Augusta Smith, Tiffany C. Bailey, and Jeff Heeg, from Phoenix; Kait Arndt, from Wyoming; Dexter Woods, from Lubbock, Texas; Heather Spontak, from Bisbee; Heidi Kreitchet from Pennsylvania and Alex Rovang, of Rovang Ceramics in Sedona will be hosting Clay for Kids.
All the artists have Arizona connections and have worked together throughout the years, several of them at the Reitz Ranch. The caliber of artistry speaks for itself amongst this group as each has an impressive list of credentials and work.
“There are the nine [potters] that were from the original group and then three that we've added. As a curator of the event, it's important to hold that vision of quality of work that I think is imperative for a successful event. And so, that's my goal is to continue that,” Roti said. “But if we can add more people — if this just grows exponentially and is larger than last year — then I think we can talk amongst the group of the artists to say, this year was 13, could we bump it up to 15 or 20 and thankfully D.A. has the space. We can fit a whole lot of potters around there. It's just a matter of not growing too quickly. And keeping it captivating with that sense of quality,” he said.
As Roti takes a leap of faith for a second year in a row, he is inspired by the accolades he has received while building a network of clay lovers, artists, supporters, collectors and those who want to learn more about the art itself.
“One of the advantages that this festival has is we have a lot of educators as a part of this group. I'd say almost all of us have some form of teaching at our level, being able to share our craft and it will be the future of the festival — to be educational based,” Roti acknowledged.
For the first time, the festival is sponsoring a “First Pick Friday” with a “Big Reveal” for collectors on November 17 from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Tickets to the event are $20 and can be purchased online at vvpotteryfestival.com. D.A.Ranch and Dark Sky Brewing will be serving wine and beer during the event. Light bites will be served in an intimate setting.
“I'm hoping that we're not only coming from wanting to sell our work and connect with people — but also share our craft and share our passion for what we do. We want people to get excited about seeing it again next time,” Roti said.
The event is free to the public on Saturday and Sunday. The first 40 attendees will receive a free cup on both days. Throughout the day there will be demonstrations, music, activities for the kids and food trucks.
The festival is located at D.A.Ranch Estate Vineyards, 1901 Dancing Apache Rd., Cornville, Ariz.