Travis Shope’s first spin on a pottery wheel didn’t go so well.
“I don’t even know that you could call it anything,” Shope said of the final product. “It was just a little lump of clay with a hole in the center.”
Eventually, Shope made a set of plates. They were lumpy and didn’t stack cleanly, but it was a start.
“I remember eating off of them and thinking, ‘I could be onto something here,’” he said. “‘I could actually sell these things.’”
That was 2012, and in the nine years since, Shope has turned out to be right. Part of the third generation of a decades-old family business, the West Point resident has devoted himself to pottery full time, selling bowls, plates and more to Commodore Bob’s Yacht Club in Starkville as well as online.
“My business is built around the plates and trying to make the best-quality dinnerware possible and just trying to get that into as many people’s homes as I can,” Shope said.
Shope has his own space inside Mar-Lyn Ceramic Supply, Inc., on Main Street in West Point, owned and operated by his parents, David and Lynne Shope. The store sells kilns, pottery wheels, clay, slip — liquid clay to be poured into molds — and more.
Mar-Lyn is named for Lynne and her mother Martha, Travis’ grandmother, who bought the old Coca-Cola bottling plant in 1976 after the shop they started from their back porch in 1971 required more space. The family has owned it ever since.
“It’s a very old building,” Shope said. “You can tell it’s been there for a long time, so it’s cool to still be there.”
The store receives visitors from across the country, a small-town attraction Shope is happy to be a part of.
“There’s definitely people from all over who come in there,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy to hear — just in West Point, it’s weird that they come there.”
Shope’s grandmother was joined by her husband Emmett after he retired from the USDA, and in 1998, the couple stepped back from ceramics. David retired from an accounting career and began to help Lynne run the shop.
Shope, who grew up without much interest in making ceramics, attended Mississippi State University and studied finance. But when he dropped out and began working part time at his parents’ shop, he was ready to give the wheel a try.
“One day, I was like, ‘You know, I should probably try that out,’” he said. “If nothing else, just to give myself an idea of what I’m talking about whenever I’m loading clay in people’s cars.”
Shope said he was interested from the beginning in making plates and dinnerware, which took time and care.
“I wanted to make functional stuff that you could use, not just something to sit on the shelf,” he said.
From early on, the Shopes used the plates Travis made, but they weren’t perfect.
“Slowly, over time, it got a little crisper,” he said.
Now, his handiwork is practically flawless. The finished pieces on Shope’s Instagram account — bowls, plates, mugs and more — hardly give away that he wasn’t a practiced potter from the beginning. On the “Shope Pottery” Etsy shop he runs, there’s even more — utensil holders, ashtrays and spoon rests, all with a smooth glazed finish.
It’s impressive. But Shope insists he only has more to learn.
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered it yet,” he said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.