Though Blake and Rebecca Robinson both work full time, the couple still manages to find time to spend on their shared project, PhD Pottery.
Blake, 37, is a lawyer at his own practice, The Robinson Firm, while Rebecca, 34, serves in K-State’s Office of the Vice President for Research as the chief corporate engagement and economic development officer. She also is a part-time Ph.D. student in leadership communication, hence the couple’s pottery business name.
Both received their bachelor’s degrees from K-State, Blake in 2006 and Rebecca in 2009. Though they both are from the Wichita area, they met in Manhattan in 2005. Blake was roommates with Rebecca’s now sister-in-law.
“Our lives kind of wove in and out over the next five or six years,” Blake said.
He’d gone on to study at Washburn University law school, and Rebecca worked on her master’s in business at K-State.
It wasn’t until a fateful Fake Patty’s Day in 2009 that their relationship officially took off, Blake said.
The couple eventually married in 2013, which also is around the time Blake worked to secure a physical space for his practice and Rebecca graduated with her master’s degree.
“Looking back, it seems like my recollection (of that time) should be, ‘Man that was nuts,’ but I kind of look back and think, ‘Man that was fun,’” Blake said. “I’d do it again.”
“I’m not planning a wedding again,” Rebecca said with a laugh.
When Rebecca decided to work toward a doctorate degree in 2018, Blake said he wanted to take up a hobby to occupy himself while she studied. He’d done pottery throughout high school but hadn’t touched a wheel or kiln since then. He started getting back into the art by attending the weekly open studio session at the Manhattan Arts Center, where he now serves as a volunteer guide.
Blake had just ordered a kiln and wheel to go into a studio space in his own garage just before the coronavirus pandemic seemingly put a halt to life last March.
“Thank God it all got here right when lockdown happened,” Blake said. “Of course, then the wait time for kilns and wheels and all that stuff because everyone was at home was six months. So I had it and was like, ‘This is amazing.’ I was basically making pottery for four hours a day during lockdown.”
Blake said he’s often inspired by Japanese-style pottery, but it’s difficult to create with the materials he has on hand. He also enjoys creating functional pieces that can be used like olive oil bottles and mugs.
With Blake working in his studio multiple times a week, their collection at home quickly grew, Rebecca said.
“There’s a piece of pottery in every corner of this house, and so pretty soon, there was just so much,” she said. “We had to figure out something to do with it. Every family member has had their fill of pieces of pottery for every holiday, so then it was like, ‘Hey, I think we can sell this.’”
Rebecca is in charge of everything that happens after the pottery has been taken out of the kiln, which includes running PhD Pottery’s social media pages, listing items, getting a website running at phdpottery.com and taking pictures of the pieces, where she also can put her photography hobby to use. Rebecca said she’s helped Blake with glazing during a few academic breaks, but she was much more methodical with each piece whereas he would dip and go.
When they first began selling last year, Rebecca said they donated just over $500 in proceeds to the Flint Hills Breadbasket.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Rebecca said. “It was something we could do to help folks who were in need at that time.”
The couple said though work and school does take up much of their time, they feel working on PhD Pottery is manageable as it’s still first and foremost a hobby. Rebecca said she mostly publishes pieces to sell online around the end of school semesters, so she’s not under pressure to put out content so often.
“There are nights when I’ll come home on a Monday and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t want to go to the studio,’” Blake said. “Then I’ll just go out there and get going on it, feel better about it. It’s like going to soccer practice. … It feels like a job until you’re there and actually working on a vase and then you’re like, ‘Ah, I remember why I do this. This is relaxing.’”