Off the beaten path, this Finger Lakes pottery is worth the detour
Some say Jamie Kozlowski is a wizard.
Perhaps he is. You see, Kozlowski is the second-generation owner of the Wizard of Clay, a handmade pottery shop in rural Ontario County on State Route 20A in the town of Bristol just three miles east of Honeoye Lake.
Two geodesic domes are visible from the road, just a part of the compound where Kozlowski spends his days perched on a stool behind a wheel throwing pottery. No, not literally throwing pottery, but turning it on a wheel into its permanent form. Bowls, cups, vases, chicken roasters…you name it, you can probably find it on the shelves at the Wizard.
“I easily make a hundred pieces a day,” he says. In fact, he claims he threw 184 pieces in one day just a couple of months ago.
During the summer, some of the Wizard’s biggest sellers are the pieces emblazoned with leaves—freshly gathered and pressed into the stoneware by Kozlowski and his assistants—found in the surrounding countryside. The Kozlowskis have trademarked that design as the “Bristoleaf.”
Wearing an apron, Kozlowski takes a block of fresh clay in his bare hands and places it onto the wheel. He forms the clay in his hands, occasionally dabbing at it with a wet sponge. In less than a couple of minutes, a perfect mixing bowl appears. “My father, when he used to do demonstrations, people would say it looked like magic,” Kozlowski recalls. His father often would respond by saying, “Who makes magic but wizards or magicians?”—hence the name “Wizard of Clay.”
Seeking a hands-on artistic outlet, Jamie’s dad, James Kozlowski Sr., opened the business in 1979 after working as an art teacher in the Greece Central School District for twelve years. The senior Kozlowski took more of an aesthetic approach to pottery. “I’m less creative than my father. He’s more artistic,” Kozlowski says. “I don’t consider myself an artist.”
Kozlowski joined the family business in 1994 after working in sales. Nearly twenty-three years later, Kozlowski is the main potter and maintains a small staff. Kozlowski has taken more of a sales-driven approach to what’s on the shelves. While his father often explored more artistically while adding in creative pieces, Kozlowski focuses on what’s selling and hones in on making a lot of those pieces.
“I take my time and make what sells. I don’t experiment as much,” Kozlowski says, adding, “I don’t mind the repetition. I kind of like it.”
One of the most popular pieces is what Kozlowski calls an “Eggel Baker.” It’s a small circular piece about the size of a bagel. The instructions are simple: crack an egg into the baker, scramble it a bit, add your choice of ingredients and stick it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. It’s the perfect size to add to a bagel for a breakfast sandwich or even to enjoy on its own as a snack.
The shop also sells many crystalline pieces. While many of Kozlowski’s staff members can press the Bristoleaf design, Kozlowski is the only one who can make crystalline, mostly due to its complexity.
“I’ll toot my own horn,” he says. “I’m one of the best in the world at it.”
If you happen to stop in the shop looking for Kozlowski, just follow the Yellow Brick Road. Yep. That’s right. The iconic road is painted onto the floor of the shop. Follow it, and Kozlowski will welcome you at the end from his workstation.
Kozlowski and his wife, Pegge Northrup, run the business, which they took over from Kozlowski’s parents after their retirement a few years ago. The winter months tend to be slow, but Kozlowski will throw all day and keep the shelves full for the summer months when sales pick up. The couple travels from New York to Pennsylvania and Virginia, going to trade shows, building a name for the Wizard of Clay. That is also where a bulk of the winter sales come from. “The good thing about shows is it keeps us in the black. We’ve got to take the pottery to the people,” he says.
The shop is open seven days a week except for Thursdays in winter. Even then, Kozlowski will usually stop in and load or unload a kiln. Sometimes he’ll throw a few pieces just to bring inventory back up.
Kozlowski runs an honest business and likes to say, “I’m not buying a speed boat, but I haven’t missed a meal in months.”
In his retirement, the elder Kozlowski has been dabbling more with his artwork. Many of his paintings are for sale at the Wizard.
Jessica Gaspar is a lifelong Rochesterian and holds a special interest in Rochester history.