Photo by Tom Davenport

Their simple life keeps branching out
Close to Home  July 24, 2002 , Idaho edition of The Spokesman-Review

by Cynthia Taggart Staff writer

    A SIMPLE LIFE HAS ITS BENEFITS. Brad and Althea Sondahl awaken refreshed in the cool morning air that fills their treehouse bedroom. They eat off stoneware crafted by Brad's hands. Their wares stay out in the open round the clock and the Sondahls trust customers to leave money for the pottery they take.
People are more likely to steal from Wal-Mart," Brad says. "I guess we could have had problems, but there's never been anything big."
    Brad has sold his handmade dishes, lamp bases, flowerpots and more from the end of Spirit Lake's Maine Street for 20 years. His artistic wares sit on wooden shelves under a fiberglass roof over an open brick patio. He leaves instructions and bags for customers who shop while he's working or gone.
    It's an unconventional life, but one Brad probably could have predicted for himself.
    He knew in college in Minnesota 25 years ago that he was a potter. His hands deftly massaged clay as it spun on a potter's wheel. He apprenticed for two years after college with potters who had studied in Japan and Norway. He understood that pottery was satisfying, but rarely lucrative.
    Luckily, Althea, his wife, was dedicated to living simply. She persuaded Brad to move with her to the Northwest, where she was from. They landed in Spirit Lake in 1981. A dilapidated house at the end of Maine Street caught their attention. They figured they could afford it.  The tiny, three-room shack was the town's first land office, built in 1907. The Sondahls bought it and used the front room as a bedroom and pottery showroom. The kitchen doubled as the living area and the back room became a pottery workshop.
    Brad focused his energy on crafting practical items and discovering new glazes.  "I prefer people to use what I make," he says.  He blended various glaze recipes until he discovered one in which zinc crystals grow. The crystals look like snowflakes and sprinkle themselves over whatever Brad glazes.
    Brad and Althea expanded and refined the house they shared with their three children. They added a living room, workshop and office, personalized wall tiles and wood pockets for shoes in the ceiling. Brad built a spiral staircase up to a platform he added 10 feet above ground in the trees. He and Althea made the treehouse their summer bedroom.
    For a few years, the cabin's appearance didn't attract customers. Brad sold his pottery at art fairs, including Coeur d'Alene's Art on the Green. As he developed a following and improved the house, Brad stayed home more.  Sondahl Pottery became a stop for families heading to their lake homes. Brad's outdoor exhibit is the last business people in cars see before the road heads down around the lake. Brad was relaxed about shoppers. He grew up in small towns. People trusted each other.  Now, Brad sells nearly everything from home. He's so experienced at throwing pots that he spends only two hours a day making new pieces. Cleaning and finishing take longer, but manufacturing is not a full-time job.
    Brad has time for his guitar and original songs. He had time to learn piano and write a musical play, "Diner," and all the music for it. He had time to care for his family while Althea studied to become a Lutheran minister.
    The $20,000 or so he earns a year doesn't buy many extras. But Brad is content.  Some extras cost nothing.
End of article.

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