When No Is Not An Option


If you truly wish to succeed, then “no” is not an option.  You make a commitment to keep going until you reach your goal.

When “no” is not an option, amazing outcomes can abound. Such was the case with our Ouzinkie pottery studio.

One cold winter Sunday, I walked the mile and a half to our studio, as it was my turn to ready the place for our afternoon of playing with clay.

It was a beautiful day: stunning, cloudless, with a temperature of about 30 degrees. We’d had an ice storm the day before, and all the trees and berry bushes along the road stoically endured the cold, their branches an elaborate pattern of white lace.

Quote:  “The difference between “try” and “triumph” is a little ‘umph.'”

I arrived about an hour early, to warm the place before everyone else got there. I soon had the Franklin fireplace crackling, throwing off enough heat to warm our small room. I lit the kerosene heater, a tall cylinder with a flat top, perfect for heating a container of water that we could use without freezing our hands.

As our studio inhabited the old abandoned pump house, it stood right next to the small Katmai River. I took our water pot and a hatchet, went outside and chopped a hole in the river ice, large enough to immerse our container. When it filled, I returned inside and put it on top of the heater to get warm.

Quote:  “Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement.”   (Brian Tracy)

How did we end up with a pottery studio in our small village? This minor miracle could be accredited to Justyna Katelnikoff, a Canadian woman who had married a Ouzinkie fisherman.

Justyna’s passion was working with clay, and when she arrived in Ouzinkie, she decided to create a place where she could indulge her love of throwing pots. When I first learned of her idea to start a pottery studio, I did not encourage her, having learned from my own experience that the force of inertia was very strong in the village.

However, she refused to be discouraged. In fact, she would not take “no” for an answer. She went to the city officials and suggested they allow her to use the old abandoned pump house for her project. As it was wired for electricity, including a 220 outlet, necessary for firing a kiln, it seemed the perfect choice.

She finally beat down all resistance and got permission to use the building. Before she could use it, she had to clear out several truckloads of stored junk.

Quote: “Intense, burning desire is the motivational force that enables us to overcome any obstacle and achieve almost any goal.”      (Brian Tracy)

Then, Justyna, who had a great understanding of writing grants, acquired a Suicide Prevention grant from the state for the village. Some of this grant money was allocated to buying clay, glazes, and tools for the studio.

Justyna taught some pottery-making workshops in the school and started a summer intern program at the studio for a few interested youngsters.

She ferreted out other resources for her project. From the Kodiak High School, the art teacher wanted to find a new home for an old but perfectly functional kick wheel. Justyna and husband Nikoli brought the kick wheel over on his fishing boat, the Cape Horn.

Justyna canvassed the village, searching for community members who might like to learn about making things from clay. A couple of them came to pottery sessions for a short time, but soon decided it wasn’t for them. When the dust settled, Justyna was left with five white women.

Our monk friend, Father Ioasaph, dubbed us the O.W.W.M.P.A., which stood for the Ouzinkie White Women’s Mud Pie Association.

Quote:  “Passion is energy.  Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” (Oprah Winfrey)

The official name for our studio became Qudiyuq Arts and Crafts. The word “qudiyuk” (pronounced kuh-DYE-yuk) means “seagull” in Aleut. We learned from a Native friend in Kodiak that each region of Alaska received a name borrowed from a type of animal who lived there. Kodiak residents were called “the qudiyuk people.”

Justyna proved to be a good teacher. She first taught us to make pinch pots. Then we spent time on the kick wheel, learning to center our clay and making our first thrown pots. When we could operate the kick wheel to Justyna’s satisfaction, she taught us how to use her electric wheel, which now lived in the studio.

We also learned how to make hand-coiled pots. I began making some at home at my kitchen table. I used a large square of wood paneling for making coils and assembling the pot. Smooth rounded beach stones helped scrape and finish them.

We learned to wedge old clay to ready it for the wheel, and how to apply underglazes. I found pleasure in painting wild flowers on my bowls. We collected colored and polished beach glass, leaves, or other patterned objects to press into the clay.

Quote:  “Believe you can and you are halfway there.”   (Theodore Roosevelt)

When we had all our underglazes done, we did a bisque firing. We used only low-fire clay. We learned how to load the kiln, and how to place heat-measuring cones into the kiln sitter. When full temperature was reached, the cones activated the shut-off mechanism, and the kiln turned itself off.

When the kiln was cooled, usually the next day, we removed our pieces and applied the final glaze. Clear glazes covered pots with designs. We experimented with colored glazes, with results arranging from exotic and beautiful to strange and garish. How the piece might turn out was often a great surprise.

Quote:  “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”  (Henry David Thoreau)

One summer Justyna made a long visit to family in Canada. She told us to make beads in her absence. Then she admonished us not to get into a certain garbage can, as it contained her personal assortment of colored clays.

We made many, many beads of all sizes and shapes, from our Shasta White and Terracotta Red clay supply. Then, looking around for new inspiration, we remembered the forbidden garbage can.

Of course, we got into the supply, rationalizing that some pieces small enough to make beads would not be missed. When Justyna returned, she was amazed at all we had done, and forgave us for using some of the colored clay.

We prepared a bisque firing, filling the kiln with beads. Then Justyna said, “Now that you have made so many beads, you have to think of some way to use them.”

Quote:  “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”  (Eleanor Roosevelt)

As I sat in my kitchen pondering the problem, inspiration hit. With some clay, I fashioned a simple fish, about three inches long. With leather-working tools, I pressed in a pattern that could pass for scales. I made a hole in the center of the fish, top to bottom, so it could be strung on a line, and thus formed our first fish bead.

Linda came by. I showed her the bead and then pointed out a string of beads and small pieces of driftwood that a friend had made, calling the creation “think beads.”

“We can make some of these with pieces of driftwood, our handmade beads, some glass beads for light and color, and the fish beads to make them unique.”

“Oh, I like that idea,” said Linda. “But we need a name for them. Let’s call them ‘Spirit Ladders” and make up a little story about them.”

Soon the ladders became a studio project, and we all began making fish beads. These soon were expanded to include other creatures. Justyna became very proficient at making bear beads. Linda, our most accomplished artist, made other creatures, such as deer, foxes, seal, and even crabs.

We put at least one fish in each ladder, so Georgia made hundreds of fish at home in the evenings. Linda taught us all how to make small birds and orcas. I designed a large bell-shaped blossom for the end of some of the ladders, with a long colored glass bead hanging inside, from the center. We scoured the beaches together for suitable driftwood pieces.

Quote:  “The power of the imagination is infinite.” (John Muir)

We soon found that a bisque firing was sufficient, as it was very hard to put on a final glaze in such a way that the bead did not stick to the wire it was on for the firing. We learned we could paint beads (including fish) with acrylics after the bisque firing, a much easier process.

That winter and for a couple years afterward, I went to the Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson and returned with a large assortment of glass beads in many styles and colors. I suggested we sell the ladders at the State Fair, both in Ninilchik and Palmer, which Linda and I attended.

Quote:  “Don’t wait for opportunity — Create it.”

The ladders sold well. We had started developing a spirit ladder story. Then a woman from West Virginia called me and said she’d bought four ladders, but wanted the story written down. That night, I put together our spiel, and we had it printed on a little card. Signed by the artist who made the ladder, the card was attached to the end.

Here is the Spirit Ladder story:

This Spirit Ladder carries with it a bit of the spirit of the Alaskan island where it was made.

Its driftwood comes from the black sand beaches of Spruce Island; shores once walked by the Russian Orthodox monk now known as Saint Herman of Alaska

May these driftwood rungs lead your spirit upward and bring you joy.

Its clay beads, fish and birds were handcrafted in the Qudiyuq (Kuh-DYE-yuk) Pottery Studio in the Alutiiq village of Ouzinkie.

May these clay pieces speak to you of our bond with the earth that is our mortal home.

Its glass beads or trade beads come from around the world.

Like us, no two of these ladders are alike, yet they are all similar. May they remind you to love one another, for we are all one family.

Our ladder sales paid for all our supplies and our electric bill. It even covered the cost of a second electric wheel and a larger kiln. Eventually we made enough money to be able to apportion a percentage to each of us. During the years when the studio operated, we made hundreds of ladders. They now reside in several states and some foreign countries as well.

Stringing sessions brought in new people to help. Each artist enjoyed making her own unique creation. We met at Justyna’s and laid out all the stringing materials and beads on her living room floor.

During one summer, I always called the wife of a water project foreman, as she liked to join us. One evening she said her husband told her “the ramrod called to tell you of a meeting.” I loved my new title!

Quote:  “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”

Without Justyna, this project would never have been started. She is a fine example of how your passion can lead to your success.

First, she set a goal and never wavered from it. She had no doubts about success — she moved forward past every obstacle, until she reached her destination.

She applied energy and resourcefulness to the project, finding innovative ways to solve problems as they arose. She incorporated our ideas into the task at hand, and soon the studio blossomed into a successful venture.

She offers proof that when we embark on a venture that is fired by passion and a burning desire to succeed, we will find a way to accomplish our purpose. Quitting is not an option. The only plan permitted is one that leads us forward.

Quote:  “There will be obstacles.  There will be doubters.  There will be mistakes, but with hard work, there are no limits.”   (Michael Phelps)

If you want a successful business, you would do well to emulate Justyna. If you need a vehicle to take you on your journey, consider my business, developed through Wealthy Affiliate, and you will find all the tools and lessons needed to get you where you want to go.

Go to my website, https://build2winaffiliates.com, and peruse the information you will find there. Feel free to ask me any questions that you may have.

I hope you have enjoyed this video. If you are viewing it from my website, please leave a comment. If you are watching it on YouTube, please subscribe to my channel. Thank you for watching.


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Fran Kelso
In reply to Suzay.

Suzay, glad you liked the story. I think you’ll like the others as well. Will be looking forward to seeing what you think about the others.

Yes, I was really scared of trying video, but PowerPoint is easy, and now I love it! Another story is brewing in my head.

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that was a super story! You all worked together starting from a junk hole no one else
could even see the value of. Then gave it new purpose, birthing it into something transcendent. Now a timeless gathering place that changes lives in the “co”mmunity.
You all made a place that celebrates the culture, the ingenuity of the people interwoven with the beauty of the animals.
You took the NO of no option, and saw that it’s true identity was the word, “ON.”I liked the power point, I liked the narration, and the story written out. I book marked this site so I can read/ enjoy more on another night.
I’m interested in your menu page. It’s so clean looking. Glad I came here.Thank you!Unapprove | Reply | Quick Edit | Edit | Spam | Trash
Fran Kelso
In reply to Justyna Katelnikoff.

Justyna, I so appreciate your commenting on the video about our pottery studio. Yes, those were fun times, and it was a pleasure to relive them as I wrote the script for the video.

Yes, I was very involved in the studio because I loved what we were doing. However, it never could have happened without your drive and desire to see the project to completion. We were fortunate to have your guiding energy to get everything going. Dreamers would do well to emulate your approach to turning a dream into reality.

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Justyna Katelnikoff
Thank you for your kind words, Fran. Those were fun times, even chopping through the frozen river get get ice to melt for our sessions. At the very beginning, When planning for the Suicide Prevention grant I had two difficulties. One was that Ouzinkie had no suicides, no doubt due to close social ties, a strong faith in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the other being my reluctance to carry out classical therapy.

I learned a big lesson when I was stuck by the thought that if I had to participate in the work, it should be something I liked. I decided on art projects.The City was very encouraging. Zach was the Mayor and very open to new ideas. He was also happy that cleaning up the shed was part of the deal. Workers were hired to take the trash to the dump and paint the shed. We were able to start getting supplies for the newly transformed Ceramics studio.

You barely mentioned your role, Fran, as a leader who turned our efforts into a successful business! Through your Peddlers Pack shop in Kodiak we reached a wider audience including tourists. One even reached as far as Washington DC in the office of Don Young, senator for Alaska.

I taught various art lessons at the school, and Linda and I were invited to help the students make Spirit Ladders as part of the Alutiiq Week activities held once a year, and special Ladders with hearts for Mother’s Day. I think some of them are still hanging in homes to this very day.

4 thoughts on “When No Is Not An Option”

  1. Fran, that is a great story. My wife used to deal in American Art Pottery, so I got my appetite whetted on pottery. Sounds like so much fun in making it.


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