By Carole Verona
“Let all that you do be done in love.” This biblical phrase (1 Corinthians 16:14) provides much of the inspiration behind Meredith Soto’s pottery, and it also appears on several of the yarn bowls she has created.
Meredith, 35, who grew up in Hamburg, PA, fell in love with pottery while studying for her undergraduate degree in art education at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg. “Back then,” she said, “you had to spend time at Messiah’s Philadelphia campus and take classes at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. While at Tyler, I took one pottery class, and then I took another at Community College of Philadelphia.”
After graduating in 2002, Meredith taught for three years at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School and for one year at Blankenburg Elementary School, both in Philadelphia. “That was challenging,” she said. “The kids got to see me only once a week for 45 minutes. I barely got to learn their names by the end of the school year.”
She then taught painting, drawing and printmaking for 6½ years in the Wissahickon School District, primarily at Blue Bell Elementary School. “I absolutely loved it. Every day, there were 150 kids coming through my classroom. I stayed there long enough to get to know them.”
While she was teaching, she went back to the Tyler School of Art, where she received a master’s degree in art education in 2010. By that time, Meredith and her husband Pedro, a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, were the parents of two young children. “My teaching schedule, commuting between home and school while raising two kids and trying to focus on making pottery — combined with Pedro’s demanding job as a firefighter — all were becoming difficult to juggle,” she explained.
Meredith also wanted to continue to be involved with overseeing children’s ministries at Spirit and Truth Fellowship Church in North Philadelphia, where she met her husband. “I didn’t want to wait until I retire to be able to do all these things,” she said, as she tried to find the delicate balance between motherhood and meeting deadlines.
So in December 2011, Meredith submitted her letter of resignation so that she could stay at home to take care of the kids and work on her pottery. Meredith set up a shop on Etsy.com, her number-one venue for presenting and selling her work. She has also shown and sold her wares at craft fairs in Skippack, Ambler and Manayunk. The Tangled Web at 7709 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill carries Meredith’s yarn bowls, mugs, sponge holders and other gift items. Her pottery is also sold at locations in Wallingford and Lancaster.
Meredith makes and personalizes pet bowls, 27 of which she sold in November alone, just in time for Christmas delivery. Meredith fires all of her work at home. “I have an electric kiln in my basement. The kiln is vented and is in a vented kiln room, separate from my workspace. I use white stoneware clay for my creations.”
Much of the detailing on her work looks like lace. Meredith explained how she achieves this effect. “I take my clay scraps and get them wet. This is called ‘slip.’ I then mix them with a kitchen mixer until there’s a pudding consistency.” From there, she applies the slip with a syringe-like tool. “It’s like putting icing on a cake, but it takes a long time to get it right…to have smooth curves and no cracks. There’s a lot of trial and error involved.”
Meredith and Pedro live in Germantown with their sons, Jonathan, 7, and Jacob, 5. Meredith doesn’t rule out the possibility of teaching again someday when her kids are older. “I do still love the idea of being in a classroom full of kids, so I wouldn’t rule out being an art teacher at a school. I enjoyed the enthusiasm of 25-plus kids crowded around me, excited for their next art project.”
For a full range of Soto’s products, go to etsy.com/shop/DandelionPottery or to Meredith’s Facebook page, Dandelion Pottery by Meredith Soto, at facebook.com/DandelionPottery/.