Fired Up for Local Art

Jeremy Langdon.

Hadley Pottery Celebrates Local Ownership

By Graham Pilotte

Photos by Kathryn Harrington

The creative, whimsical artwork of Mary Alice Hadley inspires an unusual loyalty. Whether you’ve seen it locally, remember it from someone’s kitchen growing up or own a piece (or five) yourself, chances are you recognize the trademark blue-and-white design. But after four generations of tradition, the company came close to closing its doors – until new owner Jerry Day stepped in.

“There was a chance it was going to close, and I didn’t want that,” Day explains. “It’s always been a Louisville business. (It’s) been in the same building the whole time. Since my family had been there from the beginning, I didn’t want to be there when it closed. The only true Hadley Pottery has always been right there on Story Avenue, and we bought it back and made it local again.”

From the start, Hadley Pottery has been a family business. “When Ms. Hadley started her own pottery company,” Day says, “she was the artistic side, and she took my grandfather (on) to be the mold maker. She did the designs and she painted on the walls and doors of the building. She was known for her other artwork as much as the pottery.

Jerry Day shows where the clay is formed into slabs.

“I’ve worked at Hadley Pottery my whole life,” Day continues. “My grandfather started it with Ms. Hadley in 1940. My dad took over for him, and I took over for my dad.” Day’s son, Josh Day, is currently also working at the company as well and intends to keep it in the family.

Hadley Pottery’s traditionally blue-and-white designs have captured the imaginations of generations of people. “Blue and white are two of the primary colors,” Day says, “but we also have green and something we call rust, which comes out pink. We have touches of yellow and black and then the glaze is white to complete it.

“I think the unique part is all of her designs – her whimsical scenes,” Day explains. “Our farm set is probably our most popular. It’s got a farmer and his wife, a house and barn and all the farm animals. There’s around 16 scenes.” However, collectors are in luck. “We don’t stock them all, but we can paint any of them,” Day explains. “If you had a pitcher or a piece from 50 years ago and you’re missing part of the collection, we can still redo that for you.” He and his son are happy to make sure that no family has to search endlessly to replace a few broken or lost items from a beloved set.

While some Hadley Pottery items come in sets, others are completely one-of-a-kind. “We do a lot of personalized pieces for birthdays and weddings,” Day says. “People get wedding plates, anniversary plates and baby sets when children are born. You can get it all personalized with your name or their name on it.” Customers love the hand-painted aspect of Hadley Pottery. “People will bring a picture of their house when they’re moving in or moving out, and we’ll paint it for them,” Day asserts. “Personalized and more special pieces are a lot of our business.

Josh Day removes a newly-formed plate from the hydrolic press.

“It’s not like we buy a stamp,” Day continues. “Each piece takes just as long as the piece before it. They do it freehand, and there’s a lot of labor involved. Usually, a piece goes through 13 or 14 sets of hands before it’s finished.”

Of course, the pieces last a long time. “We’ve uncovered a lot of old pottery that had been stored away,” Day says. “It’s historic, and a lot of it is original with (Ms. Hadley’s) signature. People love that.”

For Day, his family and fans of Mary Alice Hadley’s original art, the tradition lives on.

“It means a lot to be here in Louisville,” Day says. “To me, it’s the only thing I know. I’ve spent more time in that building with the pottery – 44 years now – than anywhere else. It’s like walking into the front door of my house.” That familiar feeling is one that a number of Louisvillians share. “I’m the third generation to work here, and my son is the fourth. But there are a lot of families who have worked here, not just mine,” Day says. “People will also send letters or call saying that they’re third-generation and fourth-generation buyers of Hadley Pottery.”

After generations of support, the company is finally back in Louisville with doors wide open. And both Day and his family hope to keep it that way. “…The people who have worked here are family, (and) people who buy the pottery are like family, too,” Day explains. “We don’t plan on it ever being sold again. We have all intentions of keeping it open and keeping it in our family. It’s been home my whole life.” VT


Hadley Pottery

1570 Story Ave.