BABE #63: DELIA POTTS,
Owner @ Evergreen Strings
There are a lot of things I really love about Delia's story. I love that she represents someone who didn't feel married to her major/degree and simply chose to graduate and pursue other career options. I love that she found her passion in something so unconventional (yet so important) as a luthier and is chasing that passion with all she's got. And I love the way her hustle and her love of music complement each other so well. Delia, you're a total babe. Thanks for letting me pick your brain, and congratulations on the opening of Evergreen Strings!
Hometown: Ormond Beach, FL
Current city: Northfield, MN
Alma mater: Florida State University + Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical
Degree: BA in Philosophy, Minors in Music and French (FSU). Diploma in Violin Repair (MSC- ST)
Hustle: Luthier & Owner, Evergreen Strings LLC.
Babe you admire and why?
Abigail Washburn is my idol, musically and otherwise. Her soul is so powerful and free!
How do you spend your free time?
Outside! I could walk forever. I also like to read and knit.
Must-have item in your purse?
Chico bags! They’re those reusable bags that fold into themselves.
Go-to adult beverage?
Anything at Loon Liquors, a wonderful local distillery here in Northfield. Red wine is one of my favorites, but I also love quality gin. And tequila. And vodka…
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Pierogies. Little dumplings filled with potato, onion and cheese… I mean - come on.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Definitely Sybil Crawley from Downton Abbey. She’s a fictional character, but this is a hypothetical question anyway.
Pizza or tacos?
Tell us about your hustle:
Less than a month after graduating from violin repair school (where I also took an elective ‘crash-course’ in violin making,) I found myself most fortunate to have earned a spot in David Folland’s shop to be his violin making apprentice. I’ve been here for just short of a year now, and plan to stay for at least another couple of years. My husband, John, is a trained luthier as well, but he builds and repairs guitars and other fretted instruments. There is a niche in our town for a repair shop that works on student-level instruments and bows, so we decided that we wanted to open up our own shop. It has only been a few months since a woman approached us to ask if we would be interested in having our shop located in a room in a building she owns. The building is an ‘arts incubator' aka a sort of artists co-op, where every room has a different art being created/sold/shared. It’s pretty neat. Anyway, John and I move our benches and tools into that space later today, and Evergreen Strings will have its first customers tomorrow! We are so excited, especially since repair shops that work on both violin family and fretted instruments are very few and far between.
Can you explain a luthier's job in layman's terms?
A luthier is someone who makes (and repairs) stringed instruments, either in the guitar or violin family.
What does your typical workday look like?
As we start up our shop, I also have a part-time job at our local food co-op. So a typical workday includes my apprenticeship and some combination of repair work and co-op work. I also teach yoga on Saturday mornings, and occasionally as a sub during the week. My typical hours are 7am until usually about 8 or 9pm. They’re long days, but are filled with such good things that I can’t complain!
How has your Hustle evolved from your original plans? What has the transition process been like?
When I graduated from college with my Bachelor’s in Philosophy, I had plans to go on to medical school to become a Physician’s Assistant. I was/am very interested in Dermatology, but also in Obstetrics, and had changed my mind about my career path so many times in the past that I wanted to take a year “off” to become more certain about what I wanted my next step to be. I was eager to move up north (and just get out of my home state of Florida), and I wasn’t ready to NOT be in school. John was already up in Minnesota studying guitar making, so I decided to try the violin repair program. I’m a violinist and I love working with my hands, so it just made sense. Plus, my undergraduate schooling had been so cognitive and theoretical, that it seemed like a good balance to do something more tactile and practical. I thought - hey, it’s only a year, so if I hate it, it’s not a long-term commitment! I fell in love with violin work really quick, and abandoned my plans of graduate school. I still toy with the idea of going back to school, and it might happen some day. Whatever I decide to do down the road, I want to always be working on and building violins.
Has becoming a Luthier influenced your music or how you think about music in any way?
Absolutely. It changes both the way I look at instruments, and also is helping to fine-tune my ear to hear what about an instrument’s tone is due to the way it was built, and what can be improved more simply by doing a set-up. It will take many years to become proficient at performing these diagnoses, but I can tell that my ear is already starting to develop from musician to musician and luthier; that’s really exciting.
What was the interview/application/hiring process like for your job?
There wasn’t one, really. I earned my placement as David’s apprentice through good word from my former employer/mentor. Actually, David called me to ask if I would be interested in working with him, in his shop. I learn quickly, am a perfectionist by nature and am easy to get along with, so those qualities help a good deal.
Is there anything from your academic experience that prepared you for your current apprenticeship?
This is a tough question. I actually had a very poor experience in my violinmaking class in school; so much so, in fact, that before David reached out to me, I hadn’t considered going on to learn violinmaking, but instead thought I would maybe focus on bowmaking or other bow work. Of course, becoming familiar and comfortable with the tools—having a year to get to know the tools and learn how to sharpen them (it’s more complicated than you’d think!) before I started my apprenticeship was very, very helpful.
Favorite thing about your job?
I love really looking at trees outside, then taking a chunk of wood and spending time with it by turning it into an instrument. There’s such a huge connection between nature and music. The life of a tree is taken away to create the wood, but then it’s reborn into something that makes music! Witnessing and being a part of that transition is pretty awesome.
Least favorite and/or toughest thing?
Honestly, it’s sitting for so many hours! I have to make sure I take breaks during the day to go outside and move. Otherwise, it’s no good for anyone!
What is your boss/mentor like? What is your work dynamic/learning environment like with him or her?
David’s fantastic. He’s really patient with me, but at the same time, he has high expectations. It’s exactly the type of teacher I need in order to be successful. I laugh because I’ll bring him whatever it is I'm working on, he’ll look it over carefully, and turn to me to say something like, “You’re still a tenth of a millimeter over in some places. Get it even.” Or, “What happened here? You’re almost a quarter of a millimeter off!” So then I just go back to my bench to do my best to fix it. It doesn’t bother me, because I’m also a perfectionist and am learning from the best, but I know it can be frustrating and too much for most people to handle! Picture a millimeter, and then imagine what a tenth of that looks like. It’s pretty precise work! Beyond student/teacher interactions, we keep the space pretty quiet and don’t talk that much, but we get along very well. For example, when John and I eloped in December, we had a small celebration after the ceremony, and he and his wife were two of the few people we invited. We also shared Thanksgiving dinner with his family, since ours are in Florida.
Would you say your gender or ethnicity has affected your professional and/or academic experience?
I feel equally respected by my peers and other luthiers I’m around, but I certainly have been treated poorly or brushed off outside of the shop for being a woman in woodworking. An instance that comes right to mind is when I was at a store in Minneapolis buying a couple of new tools. The last time I went was when I was still in school, and I made the trip with my male friend and classmate. The man who greeted us asked my friend if he needed any help finding anything, then turned to me with a smirk and said, “Why are you here? Just following him around?” Needless to say, that really caught me off guard and I instantly responded by asking for the specific tool I was looking for. The gentleman shut up pretty quickly.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Luthierie has always been predominantly—if not entirely—male, but there are definitely more women in the trade today than ever before, and it seems like that trend will continue!
How do you find a work-life balance?
Before John and I started Evergreen Strings, this was really tough! We were both working so much in different places that it felt like we never saw each other. As partners—and newlyweds!—it wasn’t fun. That is definitely part of the intrigue of starting our own business!
What helps you wind down / how do you manage stress?
Yoga, for sure. Also long walks and just being outside, or making music with John. A glass of wine is great sometimes, too ;)
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Live your truth. Do what makes your soul sing, no matter what that is. If you’re passionate about it and work hard, the money will follow.