Earthborn Studios makes pottery for high-end restaurants out of Leeds

By Karim Shamsi-Basha

When Tena Payne was in high school, her art teacher brought in a weaver to show the students her craft. Payne loved weaving and went after it – that is until a potter showed his skill. The rest as they say was history.

Payne, along with her husband Wynn and son Nathan, operate out of Earthborn Pottery in Leeds, and make mugs, plates, bowls, and other kitchen items used by restaurants and commercial clients all over the country.

To learn pottery, Payne said she checked out books at the library.

“I looked at how they held their hands,” Payne said. “I would have 10 failures and one success but just keep going. Then I married the love of my life but kept studying and reading and teaching myself and always wanted to make a living doing pottery. When I bumped into a chef who bought my work, I thought if I had one or two more chefs like him, I could quit my day job. That’s when it all blew up.”

Payne started her work out of her basement. Now she operates out of a building on the main drag in Leeds. She has landed impressive clients, such as the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and culinary experts around Birmingham like Chef Chris Hastings with Hot & Hot Fish Club. Other clients include the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge and several caterers.

“Chef Hastings used my dishes when he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. He said the plating played a factor, which made me beyond happy,” Payne said.

Payne thrives on these high-profile chefs using her wares to represent what they hold valuable.

“I want to make these chefs happy. One of my favorite moments was when Chef Chris Hastings came in here one day and held up a piece I was working on. He looked at and said, ‘This is just ridiculous.’ That made me feel so good,” Payne said. “My art frames their art and it’s a symbiotic relationship. My work doesn’t compete with the food, it presents the food.”

According to Payne, pottery is extremely difficult for a host of reasons, including glazing.

“One of the most critical elements is the coefficient of expansion in the clay. You have to get the shrinkage right. There’s this tension and it’s pushing all the time, and the least little ball releases that tension in the form of a chip or a crack. That’s why it’s imperative that the glaze fits the pot,” Payne said. 

Earthborn Studios continues to provide the best in pottery for clients all over the country. They have several programs, including pottery classes and dinners where chefs come and cook using their plates and bowls. 

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