Sarah Culbreth and Jeff Enge
Jeff Enge ’86, a Minnesota native who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, developed a love of pottery in high school and nursed a dream of finding a partner and raising a family out in the country. He found that partner in Sarah Culbreth ’76 when he went to work for her in a little pink house on Forest Street called Studio 105. Subsequently, they together established Tater Knob Pottery on a remote farm. After three decades of craft shows and features in the New York Times, Southern Living, and on HGTV, their reputation is well established, and people have been coming from all over for years to purchase Jeff’s signature bells or Sarah’s ornate lanterns.
Jeff’s bells can be found in 45 countries and in churches across the United States. Molding 12 tons of blended Kentucky clay annually, the couple stopped counting the number of pieces they produce back in the 1990s. Though you may find Tater Knob pottery at Neiman Marcus or Marshall Field’s, you will not find it at Walmart, Amazon or even the Tater Knob website. Sales are made in person or over the phone. Each handmade item comes with a personal touch Sarah and Jeff insist upon. Visit them, and Sarah will serve up coffee in a mug with a handle designed to fit anyone’s hands and invite you out on the porch for storytelling. Or she will demonstrate the craft with clay-stained fingers, philosophizing about spirals in nature as a lump of earth transforms into a spoon bread baker before your eyes. “Clay is magic,” she says.
Sarah came to Berea in the early 1970s from North Carolina, the daughter of a Methodist minister, her hands already made dexterous from playing the piano and flute. She began to matriculate as an art major in 1971. At 17, she had no plans to become a potter. She took a job at Boone Tavern, serving up spoon bread, until she watched an African woman spin pots in Alumni Field and became mesmerized by the process. Her sophomore year, she joined the pottery program, making 65 cents an hour.
“I would not be a potter had I not come to Berea,” Sarah said.
Jeff chose Berea College over schools like the Kansas City and Chicago Art Institutes specifically for the pottery apprenticeship program. By the time he finished his art degree in 1986, he already had 10 years of experience shaping clay into works of art. This experience was helpful in convincing Sarah to let him come work for her. Side by side, they put in 16-hour days, throwing pots of all kinds.
“When you work that closely with somebody for that length of time,” said Jeff, “you just get close. It just becomes simpatico.”
“And I just happened to fall in love with him,” Sarah added.
More than three decades later, love is still the driving force of their lives, love for each other and love for clay. Their son, David, and daughter-in-law, Samantha Lyons Enge ‘12, join them in the family business, and their 3-year-old grandson, Jordan Lee, is already learning to spin the wheel. As Sarah points out the birds feeding on pine nuts by the porch, Jeff calls Tater Knob “a feel-good place.”
“Without Berea College,” he said, “my dream wouldn’t have come true.”