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Getting to know your neighbor: Pick up an artistic heirloom at Baker’s Polish Pottery in Collins Center

COME ON BY — While Baker’s Polish Pottery in Collins Center is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays, Sunday hours will soon be added for the holidays, and customers can call owner Jane Baker at any time, to browse the variety of Polish items available. Photos by Jessie Owen.
SPRINGVILLE — Sporting 70 different patterns, 210 forms and 10,000 items, Baker’s Polish Pottery, nestled in the heart of Collins Center, is not only one of the largest retailers for Polish pottery in the United States, it is the largest retailer of Polish pottery in New York state.

A PIECE OF HISTORY — Jane Baker (pictured, holding a Polish batter bowl) said that the items she sells at her Collins Center business bring a piece of artistic artwork into customers’ homes.
Jane Baker of Springville, who runs Baker’s Polish Pottery with her business partner and former husband Jim Baker, said that she was first introduced to Polish pottery by her Polish sister-in-law, Gosia (nee Duda) Baker. “I was unaware of it before,” Jane Baker said. “What I liked most about it was that it is functional. It is very artistic. My daughter Jessica calls it ‘usable art.’”

While Polish pottery has been crafted in its homeland since the 1800s, the United States military’s ventures overseas have helped to popularize the pottery, which has grown in demand in the U.S. during the past 20 years. “People appreciate its heritage and the fact that the pieces are heirlooms,” Baker said. “There’s a sense of collectability.”

After Baker familiarized herself with the product, she turned to the Internet for more information and connected with several Polish companies that could ship to the United States. With help from her sister-in-law, Baker chose companies that she said offered the highest-quality pottery and whose business practices she respected. Polish pottery, which sports trademark blue designs, are crafted in Bolestawiec, Poland.

Six years ago, Baker opened Baker’s Polish Pottery on Route 39 in Collins Center, in a two-story structure that housed an operating blacksmith shop from approximately the 1880s – 1964.

According to Baker, the business has grown each year, even through the recent economy, and today it is the largest retailer of Polish pottery in New York state, both in quantity and in selection. Baker’s Polish Pottery specializes in Ceramika Artystyczna (“Artistic Ceramics”) products, although it carries some items from other companies.

When ordering pottery to sell in her shop, Baker chooses various patterns, which she then applies to different items. She has direct control over 70 percent of her order, but said that she enjoys receiving the unknowns that come to her in the other 30 percent. “It’s a touch, feel and see product,” she said. “It’s nice to take it in, in person. Seeing it in person is so much better than seeing it on the computer.” The entire ordering process takes between six and nine months to complete and new inventory arrives at the store two or three times, each year. The store often stocks exclusive patterns and items, such as a colorful autumn style, which is currently available.

While Polish pottery has been crafted the same way since the 1800s and retains its traditional color and much of its original design, Baker said that today’s artwork is more “detailed and sophisticated” and involves the use of more vibrant colors, because of the chemistry available today. Original pottery designs were created using carved potatoes, but Polish artisans now paint freehand with paintbrushes, carved sea sponges and stencils.

“An artist can start his designs only after years of apprenticeship,” Baker said, pointing out that no two items are alike. The pieces are molded either freehand or, with more intricate items, with a master mold, which is broken down after three months, to retain the quality of the stonewear.

Thanks, in part, to the glaze used to seal it, Polish pottery is durable enough to use in the microwave, dishwasher and freezer. In addition, it is oven-safe up to 400 degrees. Knives can be used on the cutting boards and plates and electric mixers are safe to use inside the bowls. In addition, the products are lead and cadmium-free, so no harmful chemicals will leach into prepared food. “People are selective with their money,” Baker said. “They want to spend their money on something special.” The stonewear holds its temperature, whether hot or cold, “so you can put the product inside the freezer ahead of time, and it will keep food cold, or inside a warmer and keep your food hot,” Baker said.

Baker’s Polish Pottery offers dozens of varieties of products, from traditional items like mugs, plates and bowls, to more unusual pieces, like Polish butter dishes, tea infuser mugs, olive trays, candle holders, wooden eggs and salt and pepper sets. Baker said that one of the features that drew her to this type of pottery was its authentication. The pieces are not Americanized, so customers know they are purchasing true, Polish pieces. Authenticity cards are available on request. The items are created according to metric measurements, although Baker said that the conversions are closely equivalent to the English system.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT — Items offered at Baker’s Polish Pottery include bowls, plates, spoons, wine cozies, candle holders, amber jewelry, Christmas tree ornaments, mugs, pancake warmers, condiment holders, gravy pourers and many more.
While all of the pieces feature the trademark Polish blue, Baker said she likes to include a lot of other colors in her products, so her business can offer something for everyone. “I try to branch out,” she said. “There’s a great differentiation. A lot of people mix and match the patterns and colors. I like how one of my customers said it: ‘If you had eight pieces of artwork on the wall, they would not be the same.’ That applies to the pottery, too.”

The pieces are displayed on an eclectic mix of found furniture, which Baker said adds to the authentic feeling. “I try to keep environmentally-friendly,” she said. “I go to a lot of yard sales and estate auctions. It matches the building and the history of the products.” She added that she uses recycled packaging as much as possible.

In addition to the pottery, Baker’s Polish Pottery also features a display of amber jewelry, which is created by a Polish geologist from amber found in the Baltic Sea. Customers can choose from butterscotch, cherry, lemon or classic amber items, accented with sterling silver.

All of the store’s transactions are tracked on Baker’s computer, so returning customers can compare their new purchases to the colors and styles they bought in the past. “Customers like to come back and see the products that come and go,” Baker said. “My customers taught me a lot. I really appreciate their feedback and interest. I took their suggestions and the business grew a lot from them.”

Baker brings her pottery to local shows and festivals and said that she is open to visiting local businesses. “I am always willing to share a part of my proceeds with charities,” she said. “I do a lot of fundraisers, with a percentage of the profits’ going to a charity.”

The Collins Center business is a member of the Route 39 Collective, a co-marketing effort in which businesses share each other’s information with their customers. “I am very blessed to have so many returning customers,” Baker said. “I love the energy when customers are here together; they share ideas with each other and it’s wonderful to see. I am privileged to be a part of people’s traditions and holidays.”

Baker’s Polish Pottery is located at 3595 Route 39 in Collins Center. The business is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., although Sunday hours will be added soon, for the holiday season. Customers are invited to call or stop in, during the week, and Baker said that she “welcomes phone calls to open the doors” at any time.

For more information or to make an appointment to visit during the week, call 481-9077. Find more details online at www.bakerspolishpottery.com or www.facebook.com/pages/Bakers-Polish-Pottery/303173189644.

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