Randy Pearsall is a chemist by training and an artisan by trade.
It is why the stoneware he’s been crafting for the past 42 years — primarily dinnerware and cooking items such as his highly popular casserole dishes although over the years he has produced everything from lamps to this year’s added attraction of giant vases — is indeed unique.
Pearsall does not have an Internet presence per se but if you check the likes of Etsy and eBay you will find at any given time someone is reselling the unique stoneware he creates that they’ve used for years.
As an example of Etsy, during a recent week you could find a Pearsall casserole dish listed as an antique due to its age — he’s made a lot of them in the last four decades — listed for $75. On eBay is one of his older mugs for $25.
If that sounds a little out of your league, or you can’t understand the fuss you might want to stop by his home studio in rural Manteca the weekend of Saturday, Dec. 19 and Sunday, Dec. 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, for a firsthand look.
It is where you can find a wide array of offerings including mugs from $9 to $12 and casserole dishes that are $28, $32 and $40. They are significantly lower in cost than what his creations fetch on the resale market. They are even more striking than the online resale offerings that people are smitten with causing them to not linger.
Due to the pandemic, this year’s show is outside under tents with all the prerequisite COVID-19 protocols including hand sanitizers along with the traditional home baked cookies offered by his wife Karen.
It is also one of his largest collections ever offered at his annual home studio sale due to the fact the pandemic cancelled almost all of the nearly two dozen shows his creations are a staple at throughout Northern California, Nevada, and Arizona.
It also has given him time to experiment. The result is striking large vases that he fired in three sections and pieces together using a blow torch. The vases — that can easily serve as a statement piece in an indoor setting or outdoor patio — top out at $250.
Pearsall’s business model relies on customer satisfaction. Typically it starts with people buying one piece such as the stunning casserole dishes.
Then after seeing it lives up to its billing as being durable, heating evenly, being dishwasher and microwave safe in addition to being practical art, they return the next year and add more pieces. And given they are clay, everything from cups to casseroles retain heat better than other material meaning whatever they are holding — your morning coffee or scalloped potatoes made from scratch — will stay warmer longer. Eventually many will end with a complete set of dinnerware along with cooking ware and accent pieces.
One of his most enduring designs has a unique Manteca touch using silver maple leaves from a tree in his yard that he “burns” into the design of stoneware he creates.
It is what allowed his unique stoneware to enjoy a 14-year run in the gift shop of the world-famous Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite Valley. It was one of the few places he has ever allowed his work to be sold at a retail location.
Part of that has to do with the fact they sold his work at almost twice Pearsall’s retail price —which is what he sold them to the gift shop for — as the hotel’s well-heeled international clientele including those that flock there each Christmas for a $350 per person Breckenridge Dinner inspired by Ansel Adams can easily afford.
His business model is pretty much built on retail trade.
Pearsall relies on the strong support he gets from loyal followings at various shows.
He is able to keep his prices below that of other highly regarded stoneware craftspeople because of his chemistry background courtesy of a degree in the discipline from San Jose State University.
His knowledge allows him not only to fashion his own unique glazes but he avoids having to pay the mark up that other artisans have to pay as the process that produces hoaxes require it to “pass through four or five other hands” with its attending markup before being sold in its finished product.
Pearsall happened into stoneware following a stint as the chemical technician for the San Jose State art department program’s pottery classes.
He started making pottery planters that were big at the time back in 1977 while trying to figure out what to do with his chemistry degree.
Things took off and four decades later — including the last 26 years in rural Manteca — Randy Pearsall Stoneware has benefited and grown from his chemistry education.
Pearsall’s following is such that he has a large clientele that place custom orders with him. While his glazes and their unique firing range place some restrictions on what colors he can do, he is able to produce pieces that are unique.
Even when he can’t reproduce designs asked for by customers — the National Conservancy for a special order of dishware wanted an eastern oak leaf used that wouldn’t work with his glazes – he can find workarounds.
In that case he found a California oak leaf that passed muster with both the restraints of his glazes and firing process and the customer that was more than pleased with how the substitute virtually was a match for their leaf.
While Pearsall is more than happy to work with people on custom requests, he noted the window is too short to do any for Christmas delivery this year.
Pearsall said people like the idea that they can not only buy kitchen and dishware from the person who makes it and do so at lower prices but they can actually talk with them.
Over the years it has led to unique encounters including at a show in Genoa, Nevada where a principal of a school there told Pearsall that whenever there is a potluck more than half of the parents bring their offerings in stoneware that the Manteca residents had made.
As for his items fashioned decades ago being “antiques” both Randy and his wife Karen said they had a big laugh when they saw one of his creations in an antique store.
But based on his one-of-a-kind designs and the fact his stoneware has developed heirloom status with many, it is easy to see how they could qualify in some quarters for antiques despite light-hearted protests that he’s a bit too young to have created antiques.
True to his business model, his home studio show is not caught up in tech-age trappings. That means buyers pay either by cash or check.
In the past loyal followers who have bought items from his shows have also traveled to his studio show in Manteca from places as far as Bakersfield, San Jose, and San Francisco.
To reach his home studio at 11820 E. Louise Ave., take East Highway 120 to Austin Road on Manteca’s eastern city limits. Head north at the traffic signals a mile to the four-way stop sign and turn right into East Louise. Then travel about a half a mile to the studio that is on the right side of the rural road across from — and next to — an almond orchard.
You can also contact Pearsall at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (209) 825-7792.