By Lauren Davidson
A day in Link Henderson ’97’s life would exhaust even the most motivated among us. A self-proclaimed “multitasking freak,” she’s an artist, a small-business owner, a teacher, a supplier, an inventor, a philanthropist, a farmer — what more is there?
As owner of Kentucky Mudworks, the only ceramics supplier in the state and a business focused on supporting the local community, Henderson has a strong foothold in her niche industry.
“To stay afloat, we have to be diversified,” she says, which explains why her business offers everything from kiln repair and equipment sales to classes and Dirty Girls Tools, her own line of products.
“My interns and I had already been making our own tools for use in our classes, and we started reproducing them and testing them out,” she says. “I took our tools to an annual ceramics-education conference and met people who run businesses just like me and needed new things to sell. We got great responses to the tongue-in-cheek name, and now we’re in almost every state as well as online.”
Her tools may end up anywhere in the world, but all of the materials for these wood-and-wire implements come from area suppliers, and the tools are manufactured in-house.
But even before the storefront came the pottery. Henderson’s time as a Latin and ceramics major at Dickinson was the impetus for her future career, due in part to the open access to her professors, the 24-hour studio spaces and several independent study projects.
“Professor [of Art Barb] Diduk always encouraged me to experiment,” she recalls. “I liked functional pottery, and she would take my pieces and turn them upside down or put two bowls together and a cup on top, and I said, ‘Oh my god, I never thought about doing it like that!’ ”
She also credits the “true liberal-arts experience. Dickinson teaches you how to teach yourself.”
And teach herself she did when she moved to Kentucky with best friend Rachel Holsinger ’97 after graduation, took a few odd jobs and taught ceramics classes through the Lexington Art League’s adult-education program. When a retail space became available, she launched Kentucky Mudworks—a dream opportunity where she could teach her own classes, meet the supply needs of hobbyists and artisans alike, mentor young artists, offer job and internship opportunities and produce her own work to sell.
“I have every clay at my fingertips, all the glazes I could want, so I get to be an experimental potter,” she says. “I have a cup fetish—I love making mugs. And I love having people interact with the pieces I make. If I give someone a gift of pottery and I come over and find it sitting unused on a shelf, I’m taking it back!”
Henderson also gives away a lot of pieces for charity, hosting multiple fundraisers every year, including Empty Bowls, an international initiative she was first exposed to at Dickinson, and a project selling pint glasses in collaboration with local breweries to raise money for area organizations.
“There’s something about that warm, fuzzy feeling, when everything you do every day is enriching your community,” she says.
With the store thriving, her reputation solid and her client base strong, Henderson has started exploring a new passion—farming. She recently began raising 50 chickens and growing garlic. She’s also building her own soda kiln and plans to host farming and -pottery workshops at her farm.
“It’s important to me that people have as much handmade stuff in their life as possible,” she says. “If you get a chance to make something that makes someone happy, that’s a valuable life.”
Published Oct. 28, 2013