5 Questions with Ceramicist and Alumnus Douglas Leiker
After initially pursuing a career path to be a literature teacher, Douglas Leiker (Humanities, English, ’75) discovered his true calling later in his college years. While studying ceramics under the guidance of professor Jack Windsor, founder of the University ceramics program, Leiker realized the incredible knowledge that could be gained through an understanding of how various cultures manifested themselves through art.
After graduation, he went on to establish Warm Earth Pottery in 1980. While selling his pottery in downtown Chico, he noticed a large number of people purchasing makeup in the cosmetics store next door. In researching the ingredients of various products, he discovered he recognized many of the raw materials being used in color cosmetics thanks to his chemistry background in ceramic clay and glazes. Leiker decided to create his own cosmetics line, Warm Earth Pottery & Cosmetics, and package them in his own ceramic vessels, using hand-thrown, hand-glazed, high-fired stoneware and porcelain. Warm Earth Cosmetics have been sold across the United States, Central and South America, and countries in Europe.
Leiker has also volunteered for Chico Country Day School, helping to raise over $130,000, and was a lead neighborhood activist in an effort to bring California Water Service to the Stanley Avenue area. This month, he will be honored as the 2022 Distinguished Alumnus of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.
He lives in Chico with his wife, Lynda, and they are proud parents to Sophia and Olivia.
How did you manage to expand your business from a small city to worldwide?
The growth of my business occurred 10 years after I opened a retail pottery store in downtown Chico. After two years of product development, I began attending trade shows in the beauty industry, and my cosmetics sold in my own ceramic pots started to attract attention. I built a unique portable display booth and traveled across the country. From there I acquired sales representatives from various facets of the beauty industry, which allowed me to scale up from my local Chico store to drug stores, department stores, boutiques, and the ocean cruise industry. The demand for my products exploded, with interest across the globe. To maintain the high quality, I had to place a limit on growth and production. I had offers of venture capital and investors, but I chose to turn them down for multiple reasons, including the birth of my daughters. Family was always No. 1.
In what ways did your experience at Chico State and the ceramics program help you on your journey?
There is no way I would be where I am today without my connection to Jack. He not only was my professor, but my mentor and good friend, long after graduation. This friendship was further solidified in 1988 when I came down with an extreme case of appendicitis, preventing me from building my business for more than half a year. It was at this crucial time that Jack stepped in to support the growth of my craft. He began throwing pottery for Warm Earth Cosmetics, which could then be filled with my mineral makeup. Jack and I became very good buddies, as he continued to work with me for 15 years after his retirement.
What still excites you about your work?
I am always learning something new in what I do every day. Every time I open up a glaze kiln, firing it produces an extreme sense of excitement. There are an infinite number of new glazes to make and experiment with, a variety of clay bodies and forms, kiln atmospheres and temperatures, plus all of the technical requirements which can improve the quality of my craft. Jack was a master potter and chemist while also being prolific, so I plan on trying to live up to his standards. It has truly been an exciting run that continues to this day.
How do you Do and Dare?
One of the best ways to transform the future is to be aware of what is taking place in the world politically, socially, environmentally, and personally. To me, nothing is more important than family and all of the communication and commitment it takes to create a sense of fulfillment and happiness. My two daughters will be my legacy, so I have spared nothing in their upbringing in order for them to become the loving, compassionate, empathetic, intelligent, happy, hard-working people they are. All of us are committed to making this world a better place.
What is your advice for today’s students or alumni just starting their careers?
I have always believed to be happy one has to make a living by doing something that they love to do on a long-term basis. If you do not like what you do, change the channel or start another profession to create happiness. In order to get really good at anything, one must do it for a long time, and do a lot of it. Don’t chase the money. Money will follow if you keep improving what it is you do—if you are willing to seek and find better ways to get things done. If one chooses the field of art, go to the art shows to see the quality and competition. Keep learning new things. Go to workshops and conferences. Increase your skill level in multiple fields in order to expand your horizons.