How does one go from being a high school ceramics art teacher of ten years to concept store retail entrepreneur? For one, it takes a lot of guts. But more than anything it takes a willingness to reinvent. I got to talk to Karen McClelland, the boss lady behind MANTEL in Kenton, Portland during my visit earlier this Fall. I recall immediately being drawn to the brick and mortar’s sleek , modern curb appeal while wandering the neighborhood. After stepping inside and meeting Karen there was an obvious warm connection between the store and its owner.
Check out our chat below.
How would you describe the transition from a high school ceramics teacher to a blossoming retail entrepreneur?
Honestly it’s been pretty easy. Teaching was really awesome and I miss the students more than anything. Many of them have been coming in to visit and some even helped with the merchandising.
But even throughout the whole start up process, this is way less stressful than teaching. After ten years of doing the same thing, you kind of feel like it’s time for a change. For some people, they can keep at it for forever, but I think it’s great to reinvent yourself and learn new skills. Truth be told, when I first started out teaching ceramics, I had no idea what I was doing. I was asked to do it and thrown into it. I learned on the job and I could not get enough information. I fell in love with the art and became obsessed with trying to be the best, but after ten years, the learning curve wasn’t as high anymore.
This is your first official week of businesses, and it was just earlier this year you started preparation. How were you able to bring your vision to life in such a short span of time?
I met some of the artists just through craft shows and contacted those first. In the beginning, some were really nice, others I had to do a lot more following up. I think it was a matter of quantity. I emailed so many people. I ended up with two huge binders full of possibilities, and then I started really figuring out what my brand was and began curating. Overall, you have to be OK with people turning you down and not giving up. I worked from the moment I woke up to moment I went to bed – emailing and reaching out to people for months – and I was still teaching at the time.
I’m a sucker for minimal rustic décor so I could practically see myself living in this space. Where did your inspiration for your brand come from?
Well, it started out a little more bohemian, but part of it came from thinking of the name and just brainstorming. I thought of the feeling and experience I want people to have when they walk into the store…everything from the colors to the lighting. My family also played a major role in all of this, and I’m so, so grateful for them. My husband is behind most of the interior construction and my son, who’s nine, came up with the name Mantel in thinking about the Earth’s crust. (He was literally coming up with the best names but they were all taken except for Mantel). That’s when I thought there’s another way to use that word. The mantel is the focal point in a lot of people’s homes and so we decided to bring that same homey feature to the store.
Also, Kenton has a certain style. It used to be a meatpacking neighborhood so we wanted to make sure to stay true to that in the finishes, hence the rustic reclaimed materials mixed in with the modern glam.
What are you hoping to bring into Mantel in the future?
I’m definitely hoping to bring in modern pottery. That’s where my interest lies as ceramics teacher. I would love to get the local high school students involved and get their pottery sold here as well.
I’m also trying to branch out beyond Portland and reach out to artisans based in San Francisco and Seattle.
Catch up with MANTEL