a former art teacher from Ethel, sculpts medieval pottery in
her basement. She and her husband, Jim, have sold whimsical pottery
for 25 years.
begins with what appears to be a typical clay vase. She carefully
scrapes horizontal lines across one side, then adds legs and arms.
She places a ball of clay on the vase’s top and attaches
a nose, ears and horns. After forming two small indentions in the
clay, she inserts two white balls of clay as eyes. In a matter
of minutes, an average vase magically transforms into a cartoonish
dragon picking its nose. She dubs the small creature Booger.
Melissa sits back and smiles at her creation. After a moment, she
laughs and says, “I’m not sure I should have made a Booger
today for my demonstration. Now my neighbors really will think I’m
Admittedly, the former teacher and her husband, Jim, do have unique
jobs for a couple living in the rolling pastures of northern Missouri.
For 25 years, the Hogensons have sold clay dragons and wizards that
they create in their basement.
Of course, it wasn’t always like this. At first, Melissa
and Jim were on track to live average Midwestern lifestyles. Melissa
grew up near New Cambria and Jim moved to the area when he was
13. In high school, she was a cheerleader and he was a basketball
“Neither of us ever dreamed we’d end up doing this, traveling
everywhere and selling dragons,” she says.
After earning a master’s degree in art education from Northeast
Missouri State University in 1979, Melissa taught art for grades
K-12 while Jim worked as a carpenter. But Melissa longed for more
than just teaching pottery. She wanted to sell it.
Melissa began selling
mugs likened after cats, frogs and pigs at local art fairs. Then,
she started appearing at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival and
attending more art fairs.
In 1980, Melissa quit teaching and instead produced pottery full-time.
Having never taken a business class, Melissa learned by trial and
a 12-inch wizard, holds his pet dragon and motions toward the
heavens. This oil lamp, which sells for $125, is one of Melissa’s
Photo courtesy of Jerry Anthony
“I knew I
could make pottery, but making a business out of it was a whole new
thing,” she says.
to produce what would sell, and she heard increasing demand for dragons
at Renaissance festivals.
Dragons were ideal
because Melissa could shape them into anything from candles to mugs.
Also, they were in demand. Most importantly, they were fun to make.
“I didn’t want to be stuck doing something that’s not fun 60
hours a week,” Melissa says.
Using her own imagination, as well as tips from craft magazines, customers
and her husband, Melissa expanded her pottery to a wide array of medieval
items that ranged in price from $15-$300. She sold dragon oil lamps,
with flames flickering on the creature’s tongues. She sold dragon incense burners, with smoke
rising out of their nostrils. She sold dragon drinking vessels, with the winged
creatures hiding inside or clinging to a mug’s side to form a handle. And
she sold decorative figures that featured wizards, castles and, of course, dragons.
Lisa Sopko, a long-time collector from Paola, Kan., who now has close
to 100 of Melissa’s pieces, remembers the first time she saw the dragons at the
Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Right away, they stood out.
“We shop around and look at other dragons and most of them are pretty gruesome,” she
says. “Melissa’s dragons have a nice, whimsical look. They’re
kind of her own style.”
|Jim and Melissa Hogenson hold a dragon mug and oil lamp
while standing in their basement. Their pottery ranges in price
from $15 to $300.
are typically considered ferocious, Melissa’s fire-breathing
fellows are harmless, more resembling Puff the Magic Dragon than a
“My dragons have always been pretty friendly,” she says. “That’s
my personality. I can’t really make mean dragons.”
Booger, Wixem, Patch and Seymore. Those are just a handful of her dragons’ names.
“Jim and I do a lot of brainstorming to name these dragons,” Melissa
says. “We usually try to make it associated with what they’re
For instance, Patch is trying to quit smoking so he has a nicotine patch
on one arm. Wixem has a candle wick on his tongue. Booger, well, you
can figure out where he gets his name from the picture above.
Not only do Jim
and Melissa collaborate in naming the characters, but also in making
them. Ten years ago, Jim hung up his tool belt and took up his current
job as the second half of Clay Images, the Hogensons’ business.
The couple works around the clock. Each year, the Macon Electric
Cooperative members produce about 4,000 handmade pieces. Melissa
sculpts every piece while Jim is responsible for glazing, loading
and unloading the pieces in a downdraft gas kiln, and doing most
of the traveling.
a small dragon with a flame flickering on its tongue, is just
one of Melissa's ingenious oil lamp designs. Her functional
designs bring the pottery to life.
“We sure don’t have a 9-to-5 job,” Melissa says. “Really,
it’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle. You do what you’ve
got to do to get the job done.”
The Hogensons now
sell their pottery all over the country. Jim spends about 120 days
per year on the road, traveling to art fairs and Renaissance festivals
in Arizona, New York, South Dakota, Illinois and other states. Sometimes
he travels alone while other times the couple travels together to
be surprised how many dragons you can get in a suitcase,” she
While on the road,
Melissa is always listening for fresh ideas. Since she tries to add
at least one new character each year, she’s
always open to creative ideas while talking to collectors or reading
fantasy novels. Somehow, Melissa never fails to dream up new dragons.
“I’ve pretty much specialized in dragons for 25 years, and there’s
still new ones in my head,” she says. “I guess that’s what
my talent is.”
To buy or
work, visit www.clayimages.com.