When Janine Senatore was just 12 years old, she found what some spend a lifetime chasing: her passion.
She didn’t know it 50 years ago, but when she picked up a piece of clay in a Hanover, Mass. public school art class in the early ’70s, Senatore discovered a hobby and a lifeline in pottery.
“I was introduced to pottery by two Hanover teachers named William Bell and Percy VanDyke. I can hardly say their names without getting choked up,” she said. “They had such a truly profound impact on my life.”
Now, the recently retired nurse is desperate to share her love of the pottery wheel with others through a backyard studio she recently opened to the public. What started as a basic shed in her yard has been decked out with two wheels, shelving, electricity, flooring and everything else she needs to create, host classes and collaborate with other potters.
“This was always my plan, to have a studio that was open to the public and that others can share in,” she said. “You can learn so much from other people and you get jazzed about what they’re doing. … I need that communal space.”
Her shed was first built in 2019, and she spent over a year outfitting it with everything she could possibly need. A small studio space was a longtime dream, she said, but a breast cancer diagnosis four years ago almost waylaid her plans.
“I was so lucky in my journey. It was caught very early, was highly treatable and two years later I am living cancer free. But you think about your mortality and what you want to do,” she said. “The rug can be ripped out from under you at any moment, so just do what you want.”
Senatore specializes in functional pottery rather than decorative pieces. Her work can be used as everyday bowls, mugs, serving platters, vases and more, and her decades at the wheel have led her to establish a few signature details: She’s known for pieces with funky handles and she works mostly in earth tones.
“The longer you stay with something like this, you start to discover your own aesthetic and what calls to you,” she said. “And everything is borrowed. My handles started from a single photo I saw in a ceramic magazine. I tried it, messed it up and stumbled upon how I do it now by accident.”
Falling backwards into a particular style or technique is overwhelmingly common for potters, Senatore said. The process of creating a piece of pottery – which takes weeks, she said – is so detailed and elaborate that it is almost impossible for everything to go exactly as planned.
“It can be very arduous and something that is not completely in your control. You get a lot of surprises,” she said. “There are 50 million ways something can go wrong. You just have to learn to let it go.”
But for everything that can go wrong, she said there are an equal number that can go right. Senatore said her studio and process is in a constant state of development and growth, from testing new techniques to trying new glaze recipes.
“It has so many stages and is such a process. You have to dry them and fire them and glaze them and fire them again, then throw them away because something went horribly wrong,” she said. “Pottery breaks – in the studio, in your kiln, in your kitchen. There’s a lot of letting go.”
Despite the heartbreak that comes with dropping a finished piece, breaking a vase or having glaze “shiver” – chip off – in the kiln, Senatore says there is something special about using and owning a piece of handmade pottery instead of having a cabinet full of $2 mugs.
“People don’t have to buy a $35, handmade mug, but it’s all about what speaks to you. People will say ‘I love your mug. I use it every day.’ There is something in the shape, the color, the heft, people can just love it,” she said. “It’s the difference between something mass produced and buying something that has a meaning.”
Senatore’s studio is open to rentals, private lessons and small classes. Her work is available for sale at Hingham’s Artisans in the Square, 63 South St., Hingham, MA. She can be reached at email@example.com.