Delaying Retirement in Favor of Pottery

By Beacon Staff

This Thursday, Ethel McNett will put in her usual 14-hour workday, providing in-home health care and running her shop, The Pottery Studio in Kalispell. She’ll also, quietly, celebrate her 74th birthday.

“It’ll be business as usual I suppose,” she said. “There’s always more to get done.”

At an age when many are long retired, McNett juggles two full-time jobs. Monday through Saturday, she begins her workday at 8 a.m., offering in-home care for a Kalispell man. At 11 a.m., she opens her pottery shop, where she’ll work until 6 p.m. Then, it’s home to make herself a quick dinner and feed her pet parrot before heading back to her patient’s house to prepare his evening meal and finish chores.

Her day’s work is usually complete around 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, though, is a day of rest. “It’s my day to go to church and thank the Lord for the good health he’s given me,” McNett said. “He gives me the strength to keep this up.”

In addition to her birthday, McNett will also mark the one-year anniversary of The Pottery Shop this month. Originally set to open last July, a flood in the shop’s office building shut the business’ doors before they had a chance to open. Workers spent months ripping up carpets and repairing the damage as McNett waited in limbo.

“I’d come in everyday and feel like crying,” she said. “I wondered if I should just give it up.”

Janie Toren, center, writes the names of Lexie Proctor, Kristen Torren, Adella Hold, Libby Proctor and Madyson Torren, left to right, on their ceramic pieces at The Pottery Studio.

But McNett kept on, determined to see her idea through. Relying largely on word of mouth, she has slowly built a steady clientele over the last year. Her biggest struggle, she says, is helping people find her.

Tucked in a side hallway of the Ashley Square business center on the west end of Kalispell, The Pottery Shop doesn’t benefit from walk-in business. Customers must seek it out, McNett says, as she rattles off the directions she repeats several times daily. Take U.S. Highway 2 to Corporate Drive. Go in the back door of the business complex. Left at the H&R Block business. Right at the IRS office.

Once there, though, customers find a clean and welcoming atmosphere where they can exercise their creative whims.

The majority of the store’s inventory is unpainted clay figurines – mostly animals or religious iconography – that customers can buy and then paint with acrylics in the shop’s back room. The figurines range in size from miniature ducks no larger than a dime to large, mantle-size representations of elk or bears, and in price from $2 to about $80. There are also magnets and ornaments for sale, as well as an attached room full of Christian books.

Painting, including all materials and McNett’s instruction, is $6 an hour.

The paint-your-own pottery style has made McNett’s shop a popular stop for Girl Scout Troops, families and kids’ birthday parties. Last week, five young girls painted under McNett’s watchful eye. Their work was varied and often fanciful: a yellow duck with polka dots and stripes; another duck, this one covered in lime green and brown paint; a deer covered with white spots.

The girls’ mothers, Janie Toren and Stacee Proctor, said the shop is a fun and inexpensive place for their kids to be creative. “It’s great because Ethel explains how to paint and what colors to use to make something real, but she doesn’t push anything on them either,” Toren said. “She still lets them have fun and do their thing.”

Ethel McNett describes different techniques for painting the numerous ceramic figurines surrounding her at The Pottery Studio in Kalispell.

McNett’s first introduction to pottery was an elective class in college. She started school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas at the age of 53 after raising her three daughters and owning her own pizza place in St. George, Utah. Pottery was just a hobby, though, until last year when McNett opened the Kalispell store.

“I had over 3,000 molds in a storage shed and the second room of my two-bedroom condo was devoted to ceramics,” she said. “There aren’t many places to do pottery in the area and I like to teach, so I thought I needed to share my knowledge and supplies so others can experience it as well.”

While she has no plans for retirement anytime soon, McNett does hope that the pottery shop will soon be profitable enough for her to make it her sole occupation. Until then, she doesn’t mind her busy schedule.

“Do I sit?” she asks. “No. Not too often. Why would I when I can do this?”

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