Michael Middleton is the owner of Michael Middleton Ceramics in Moyock, NC
Can you describe your business?
The designs of Michael Middleton evolved from my inherent love of creating artwork on a large scale. I create unique and beautiful creations showcasing my signature approach and my unique interpretation and diversity of the natural world.
Each piece is designed and created from locally sourced materials, as well as hand-dug and process wild clays found near my home in Moyock where we have built a wood-fired kiln giving me the ability to fire large pieces and fire 100's of pieces at the same time. There hasn't been a wood-fired kiln in Currituck County since the 1800's.
Can you talk about when/why you made the decision to start your own business?
In 2019, my art took a turn when I came up with the idea of combining Corolla Wild Mustang hair and infusing it into the local Currituck clay. Each of these wild horsehair creations is exquisitely unique and displayed in a collection of the Corolla Wild Mustang Museum. Preserving the legend of these majestic wild animals is very important to me and the local OBX community.
Why do you do what you do?
Since the early 2000's I have had a love affair with ceramic art. Mostly I am self-taught but have been lucky enough to have had wonderful opportunities learning from some incredible artists in the Seagrove, NC area, and learning from the industry giants in the ceramic world. A lot of my work has philanthropy elements, I support the Bra-ha-ha every year, and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund with my wild mustang hair pottery.
Why did you choose Currituck County?
I live in Moyock and teach ceramics at Hickory High School in Chesapeake where I have been instrumental in delivering one of the largest ceramic programs in the state of Virginia.
Are you from Currituck County or did you relocate here?
I was born in Portsmouth, Va. I earned my BFA from Old Dominion University and then began teaching high school art.
Did you consider other locations for your business?
Currituck is my home, the natural resources in the County are fantastic and there is so much to do. I am passionate about the Wild Mustangs and feel honored to work with the people at the CWHF supporting their work and the horses through my art.
Recently I have started another project, The Marks We Make, which honors individuals and groups who have 'left a mark' on the community around them. The first person in this collection is Mr. James Frye and we have created a huge piece with an imprint of his hand on it. This piece will be displayed at the School Admissions Building in Chesapeake this summer.
My next project in this collection will be using the native American Indian shards embedded in wild clays to create a piece that highlights their impact on society today, specifically in this area.
What are your biggest challenges as a business owner?
I am blessed to have the support of some fantastic people around me, my family, friends, and colleagues help me with many aspects of my business.
Covid has been a big challenge, not being able to attend events and taking my business into a more online format in order to create awareness of the brand and what I do.
But we have seen some massive growth too in the past year, a new website and online store, social media activity, and some great opportunities such as the 'Captain' wild mustang piece I recently created for the International Museum of the Horse (a Smithsonian affiliate) in Lexington Kentucky which is on display in their foyer representing the Spanish Wild horses and their journey across the Atlantic and from whom our Corolla wild mustangs originated from.
Moving forward the biggest challenge will be growing out of my location and finding suitable premises nearby, which will be a big step for Michael Middleton Ceramics, but an exciting one!
What are the biggest rewards?
We get so many comments and followers who absolutely love what we do here, on a local and national level. Being recognized is a huge reward, giving back to the community is something close to my heart and very rewarding too.
Also, being able to grow my business, and continuously develop new skills to include and enhance the products, and the brand is rewarding as is hearing that my work has delighted someone new.
What sets you apart?
Authenticity! We hand-dig and process a lot of our clay ourselves, which is truly local, authentic, and historical. The wild mustang hair pottery is a direct memorialized piece of our past, no two are the same, connecting the natural environments together.
These horses will not be around forever, some of the pots I make are from legendary horses who are no longer with us, I hope these pieces will become collector's items in the future since you truly are buying a piece of local history when you purchase anything from Michael Middleton Ceramics.
What's one piece of advice you would give to someone starting a business in Currituck County?
Have a plan, make sure you have a great support network, and try to enjoy it, don't forget why you started the business in the first place. If you can, get a good marketing person, I use Seed Business Marketing in Chesapeake, she is an expert, and in today's digital world, that's what you need!
Also remember, you can not plan for disasters, but if they happen, maybe something good will come out of it!