ROCKPORT — For Rockport resident Amanda Amoroso, being environmentally friendly is a way of life and is at the center of her ceramics company, Honey Bee Hill.
Though she is now a skilled ceramics creator, she did not start her journey through the art world dedicated to ceramics.
When enrolling at Pennsylvania State University to pursue a bachelor’s of fine arts, Amoroso possessed an initial interest in industrial design.
“I have always enjoyed thinking about the specific use of items, how they are made, their life cycle, and the choices I would make if I where to have created it,” she said.
Amoroso was not fully satisfied after taking a few industrial design courses, which occurred around the time she gained sophomore status at the university and applied — and was accepted — into the sculpture concentration at the university.
“This program focused intensely on concept and craftsmanship, which works well for my train of thought,” she said.
Progressing through the program, she was connected with public art sculptor Rob Fisher, who has work displayed across the globe.
“He reinforced the idea that one can not only make a life as a working artist, but that one can also make meaningful impact with prolonged effort and thoughtful consideration to your purpose or statement,” she said.
Following Fisher’s unexpected passing, Amoroso received a job working with Jim Watkins and Liz Pannell, of Peandoubulu Glass in Providence, Rhode Island.
“They are phenomenal people, who make phenomenal products, and exhibit a phenomenal work ethic,” Amoroso said. “While their artwork is represented in galleries, the thing that keeps their business thriving over the last 35 years is their tableware. These are every day products that they infuse with color and joy.”
Thanks to the mentorship of Watkins and Pannell, Amoroso gained the realization she was able to do what Fisher advised — make an impact and a living.
At this point, Amoroso began her journey of ceramics crafting and rented space within a ceramic studio to work on perfecting her craft, a craft she still needed to polish despite taking courses taught by artists at Penn State.
“Ceramics very quickly became an undeniable passion, though mastering the skills took years before I could make anything close to decent.”
Once she had a better grasp on ceramics, though with still room to improve as she recalls, she opened Mad Dog Artist Studios and Gallery with her father and sister.
The studio is a multi-media studio for independently working artists, which continues to thrive in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
At the studio’s inaugural holiday sale in 2012, Amoroso made 85 of her first attempts at reusable ceramic thermoses for sale, which were all sold before the event was over.
“Embarrassed as I am to see that first attempt today, it proved to me that people were willing and ready to support local art and commerce, and ready to take effort to reduce their use of disposable products, [if they are] shown a good alternative,” she stated. “This experience launched me on the path I still pursue today; the production of functional ceramics to support the needs of daily use and to facilitate the reduction of disposables and waste.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Amoroso knew it was time to leave Rhode Island behind for Maine’s coastal towns.
Since they were children, both Amoroso and her husband, Alex, coincidentally, had dreams of moving to Maine. After initially raising their son in large Rhode Island cities, the Amorosos realized it was time to make the dream of living in Maine a reality.
Upon Alex gaining employment with Camden-Rockport Elementary School and Camden-Rockport Middle School in summer 2017, the Amorosos joyfully sprinted, as Amanda stated, to Rockport.
Within two months of the move, the construction of the Honey Bee Hill studio began and approximately one year later it was completed, stocked and ready for products to be commissioned.
The company’s name comes from the “amazing presence” of bees working in her yard from spring to fall, the hill the studio is at the base of, the acres of woods and a field of blueberries surrounding the property.
Amoroso welcomes the bees in her yard and fill the yard with bee loving plants, uses her own compost to nourish the soil and naturally does not use pesticides.
How environmentally friendly her studio is makes Amoroso’s studio incredibly unique among other art studios.
Due to the studio only being 300 square feet with low ceilings, it was more energy efficient to install radiant floor heating, thus allowing the thermostat to remain low and still maintaining a level of comfortability within the studio.
The studio is a closed loop system, meaning the system uses less than four gallons of water and is heated by an energy efficient, wall-mounted, on-demand boiler.
“I intentionally omitted running plumbing to my studio so that I would be very aware of how much water I use, having to carry water out in 5 gallon buckets, instead,” she said. “I then have a simple gravity sink that provides me with a slow dribble of water, just enough for cleaning that requires fresh water.”
The water is drained through a ceramic specific sink trap, which filters out the largest particles before the water passes into a five-gallon bucket.
“I have a very low tech, unglamorous, system of filtering the gray water from the first bucket into the next bucket, and sometimes a third, which I use for the majority of cleaning that occurs, from my wheel head, to paint brushes and everything in between,” she stated.
This process allows Amoroso to use less than four gallons of freshwater a month — sometimes even allowing her to use as few as two gallons.
“As I continue with the process of filtering the water and letting particles settle to the bottom, I eventually get to the point where the water needs to be refreshed,” she said. “At this point I use the gray water to water our plants.”
Amoroso added insulation, sealed air cracks, reused materials originally there — such as doors, windows and scrap wood — and installed LED lighting. Once the roof is reroofed, she is probably going to install solar panels on the roof to provide power for both her studio and her house.
Why is being environmentally friendly important to Amoroso?
Her passion for protecting earth’s beauty dates back to summers she spent on China Lake in Kennebec County and her many years residing in coastal New England towns.
“The beauty these places provide have always filled me with joy, gratitude, and endless thoughts,” she said. “Unfortunately, more often than not, traces of human carelessness would remind me that I was not alone in the wilderness.”
She noted there is always an abundance of trash polluting the earth, seemingly never-ending landfills and by the use of pesticides. Moreover, she pointed to the environmental impacts yielding from shipping goods around the world and the current state of water quality and consumption.
Amoroso, therefore, felt it was a necessity, rather than a choice, for her to make Honey Bee Hill and her products environmentally friendly to give back to the community and the earth.
Among the pieces she creates at her studio are thermos, plates, mugs, vases, bowls and cups. Prices of items listed on her online store range from $14 to $55.
Her handmade reusable porcelain cork and carry thermos are designed to fit easily into cup holders and within the hands of the user, while the angle of the neck is designed to slow down temperature changes of the contents to help keep the contents at the desired temperature.
She maintains three goals for her company: to create love, health and happiness for both the planet and her customers.
Love, within her creations, is showcased through her passion for her creations and the feelings she hopes are elicited when people use her products.
“I truly do love what I do for a living, as I really do enjoy (and yes, love) each item I make, from the beginning of the idea to the delivery of product in hand,” she stated. “I hope that love is a feeling people enjoy and experience when they use my wares — that feeling of going to the cabinet and reaching for your favorite mug, or the bowl that is perfect for your baked egg.”
Health, meanwhile, is addressed through her methodical selection of glazes to use, being mindful of leaching from glazes.
“All of my glazes are made from natural materials approved for use in the U.S., and in appropriate quantities that have been proven to be safe over the very long lifetime of a pot,” she noted, while stating that many brightly colored glazes are achieved by the use of heavy metals or a lower firing temperature.
“This may limit my color palate, but I feel it is a worthwhile commitment,” Amoroso said. “I also use strong clay bodies, a brown stoneware and porcelain, that are formulated to be durable at a mid-fire range, reducing the amount of energy required for high-fire bodies.
“I [...] feel happy when a cup fits my hand just right, when my lips meet the rim smoothly, when the glaze helps me to recall a place I love, or an experience I had. Happiness is art in hand, form and function that work together.
“I place a high value on craftsmanship and consistency so that my products fulfill the desire and expectations of the customer,” she said. “I attempt to keep my work as affordable as possible as I feel that everyone should be able to own and use thoughtful, handmade, functional art.”
Ceramics take a considerable amount of time to make.
“The products go through many slow stages of being built, managing the drying stages, going through a bisque kiln, numerous processes to be glazed, then glaze fired, and lastly polished up, looked at and tested for quality control, ALL before I put them our for sale,” she said.
Reach George Harvey at: firstname.lastname@example.org.