ARTIST PROFILE: Marianne Robilotta

Jeremy Mistretta
August 19, 2022
7 min

“Fake it till you make it.”

Basiclai’s Marianne Robilotta’s calloused grit should inspire all.

We’ve all done it.  Especially me.  When we want to do something so badly and are forced to make pivotal life choices, we sometimes oversell ourselves.  With trial and error, blind ignorance, and a lot of luck, I was able to cultivate a thriving plaster business with no formal training.  My “caution to the wind” mentality has given me a bleeding heart towards anyone willing to do the same.  Especially people like Marianne Robilotta.

In 2020, my children’s music teacher started asking for some pointers on a plaster remodel project in his home.   Because he and his wife Marianne are two powerhouse creatives and armed with a myriad of creative skills, I happily obliged to help.  At first, I thought I was just helping some passionate DIY’ers.  However, as the project progressed, I began to learn more an about Marianne and her desire for proficiency in every facet of life.  It was these dexterous desires that launched her darling child business “Basiclai” and has set her skillset apart from all her competitors.

Marianne wasn’t always a natural born potter.  Raised in New Jersey, she attended New Jersey City University and pushed through her ceramic’s degree with minimal enthusiasm.  “I enjoyed my education a lot, but it was hard to make money in that field, so I wasn’t truly inspired at the time” said Marianne in a fun afternoon Zoom chat.  Like many creatives searching for solid direction, Marianne conceded and got what she considered to be a “regular” job at an interior design firm in New York City.  After a decade of unsatisfying work, she spontaneously replied to a ceramics advertisement she saw in a magazine.  The position was for a thrower in a Virginia studio.  Thankfully, while working at the NYC design firm, she had kept her inner potter flame lightly lit with a kiln and a wheel in her garage, so she was still armed with a few techniques.

Underqualified yet eager, Marianne set South and polished her rusty skills.

“I was decent enough to get by without others noticing I was struggling” laughed Marianne in retrospect.

The studio would allow employees to use their equipment after hours to work on their own projects. With unbridled passion, Marianne stayed until midnight most evenings honing her talents.  In just a few months, she had surpassed the rest of the crew with her skillset.  

After 9 months however, her and her husband Alex realized that they didn’t want to live in Virginia.  She knew they wanted to move, and she knew she wanted to be a potter. “I just googled and craigslisted and searched pottery positions around the country.  The most attractive position she found was here in Bozeman at Mountain Arts Pottery. “I actually had to look to see where Montana was on the map” she said.  Once they realized that Big Sky and Bridger Bowl were here, they were sold on the move.  She interviewed in May of 2015 and headed West in July.  

Since 1980 Mountain Arts Pottery has focused their attention on plates, bowls, and kitchenware’s. In Virginia, her previous employer made mostly mugs.  “I had to fake it a little still to keep up with the newer motif’s” sighed Marianne.  Mountain Arts pottery was very patient with her and her slight learning curve at the time. “I credit a lot of my success to them” she exclaimed.  “They were so supportive of me. I even still work there sometimes!”

Just like her time spent in Virginia, Marianne worked by day and crafted her own creations by night.  “It was like I had two jobs at the same time, I was working at Mountain Arts full time and that was my income and then anything I made from the pottery from my own business (called Marianne Robilotta at the time) I just saved.”  Like a smart and savvy businesswoman, all her earnings went directly back into the company.    

After a few years of renting and moving her creations around cramped housing, Marianne decided to focus on buying a house and scaling Basiclai.  She told us she “obsessed” about it looking for a home that could house her pottery business and Alex’s music studio.  “We bought the last inexpensive home in town” smiled Marianne.  The home is a charming fixer upper just off 7th Avenue and is zoned commercial.  The location is perfectly placed in the bustling and burgeoning portion of “mid-town” After a recent remodel, her husband Alex’s music space turned into her studio and gallery.  Added barn doors tout a rustic flare and enhance the intimate retail space. The kilns are housed away from the studio but ornamentally displayed during business hours in a separate outbuilding.

In the studio space, Marianne can toil over pigment and stress her “utilitarian” design that focuses on seamless quality.  Marianne told us that she wanted all her pots to look handmade yet “machined.”  This approach harnesses years of experience and practice and has been quite the learning curve in production.     Most pieces are a culmination of at least six months of planning and modifications as many of the designs are stackable and sold as a set.

After the design is finalized her creations can now be shipped worldwide!  New Age Artisans is thrilled to have custom-made mugs from Basiclai - a thank you gift from Marianne for our remodel consultation.

It’s clear that Marianne isn’t faking it anymore.  She has made it.  With the occasional help of her musical savant husband, she crafts hundreds of pieces a month with tentative plans to hire one more employee to keep pace with increasing demand.  If you are in the hood, stop by her gallery on North 8th avenue and say hello. You won’t be disappointed.  Prospective customers can feel the time worn difference in Basiclai’s quality and care “I really want folks to be connected to their possessions and love what they own” smiled Marianne.