The moment you meet ceramic artist and floral designer Sue Ann Cox, it is instantly clear that she is The Fairy Potter. A cheery and kind woman, she lives in a home that’s tastefully peppered with fantastical whimsy, including some of her own ceramic creations and antique copies of The Language of Flowers and Tolkien’s The Hobbit. While the joy Cox found in flowers as a floral designer has certainly woven its way into all that she does, it is especially prevalent in her art.
“Every piece has a meaning,” Cox explains. “And it’s all based on the book, The Language of Flowers. It’s a book I’ve always had in my shop because back in the day when you sent flowers, there was a meaning to them.”
These meanings have made their way into the ornamentation on each fairy house. For example, the cherry blossom fairy, Eve, lives in the cherry blossom house and reminds viewers of the beauty, love and fragility of life. The lavender fairy, Enchantment, brings calm and serenity to your home or garden, with lavender designs sprawled across her tiny cottage.
Cox meticulously builds, glazes and fires each piece in her Delaware studio. The studio is a charming space, filled with pieces of projects at various stages of creation. The hand tools and workspaces are clear signs of the caliber of craftsmanship Cox practices.
Cox wasn’t always a ceramic artist. Her journey to The Fairy Potter was filled with detours. She began her career in the arts with popups and art shows throughout the 1990s and 2000s. She worked as a flower designer and eventually opened her own gift shop in Hockessin. The gift shop brought many connections with those in the Delaware art community. Cox represented up to 100 artists who came and went throughout the years. She’d sell their goods alongside floral arrangements and an assortment of gifts.
With the 2008 recession came the closing of her little art boutique. Her children grew and moved out, and she was ready for a new venture. She found herself in management at a furniture chain. Five years into her career, she longed for more creativity and hands-on art projects. Following a lifelong dream of working with ceramics, she began taking pottery classes at the Center for Creative Arts. It was during open studio time at the Center for Creative Arts that The Fairy Potter came to be.
It was a quiet day alone in the studio and the world outside was just on the cusp of springtime. Cox was crafting a ceramic birdhouse in the spirit of the season.
“The heavens opened up and I was told by the fairies or by the universe that it was a fairy house,” Cox says.
That was in 2015. Her works became more “flower-centric” and more geared toward home gardens. A year went by, and Cox continued to craft her little fairy houses. When the Wilmington Flower Market came around, Cox asked an artist friend to share a table so she could do market research on her Enchanted Cottages. Her goal was to measure interest in her products. Instead, Cox sold every single one. The success at the Flower Market proved to Cox that she had something worth pursuing, and The Fairy Potter (a charming name suggested by her husband) was born.
She took her products to the Brandywine Arts Festival in 2016. Then, she made a deal with Winterthur Museum. With their sprawling gardens and Enchanted Woods, The Fairy Potter was the perfect fit for their gift shop. In 2018, she quit her management job and began crafting and selling Enchanted Cottages full-time.
By 2021, The Fairy Potter had been Cox’s full-time job for a couple of years.
“Then I did something crazy,” she explains. “So, I had all these relationships in the gift industry due to the fact that I had a gift shop and went to all the big wholesale shows in New York and Atlanta. I decided I was going to create a wholesale line and launch it at the Philadelphia gift show.”
The trouble with wholesale of hand-made products is often the high-quantity demand. Hand-crafting each flower and butterfly gives each piece by The Fairy Potter a heart and soul of its own. However, Sue Ann Cox only has two hands. Even with a studio assistant, a wholesale line is a big ask.
“Boy, was I unprepared,” Cox admits. “I knew the ins and outs of how to market myself, but I did not expect the kind of feedback I got and the orders I then had to make.” One woman who owned a gift shop in Pennsylvania even tried to place an order for every single piece after looking at her Philadelphia Gift Show collections.
It took Cox until Christmas of that same year to decide that she would never try that again.
This wholesale misadventure is a testament to the type of artist and business owner Sue Ann Cox is. She was unwilling to sacrifice the personal touch of a handmade product and unwilling to drive the prices so high that her pieces become inaccessible to those who would get the most joy from them. This delicate balance of pricing and product integrity is what brought The Fairy Potter to its home as a retail art business, selling through popups and Delaware’s many art shows.
The fantasy genre as we know it wouldn’t exist without Tolkien, and The Fairy Potter’s hobbit hole-inspired houses pay homage to those works. With the iconic shape with a round door, it’s the perfect little cottage for fantasy lovers to place in their garden or home.
Although the business specializes in the whimsical and fantastical, The Fairy Potter has another popular line of products: iconic Delaware architecture. Rockford Tower came first as a true-to-scale replica based on the original prints of the building, hand-crafted by Cox and her husband, Ray.
“Ray makes all of my architectural pieces and I make all of the whimsy,” explains Cox. “So, this is a true partnership.”
The Breakwater Lighthouse in Lewes also has its own scaled-down ceramic Fairy Potter replica, a perfect piece of décor for Delaware beach houses.
Cox is an active and creative artist, constantly bringing new visions to life. This month, The Fairy Potter announced another line of designs. This includes small mushroom gardens and cottages embellished with an array of woodland creatures, butterflies and flowers.
Any of the enchanted cottages and architectural pieces make great garden and landscaping décor, but Cox advises owners to bring the homes inside for the winter. (The fairies hate the cold!)
For new designs, and to keep up with The Fairy Potter’s art show appearances, follow the brand online and on Facebook or Instagram.
Find The Fairy Potter this month at the Hockessin Art Show (February 24-26), and throughout the season at the Chadds Ford Art Show, Whitehall Craft Show, Wilmington Flower Market and Bellefonte Arts Festival. Some pieces can also be found at the Little Treasure Shoppe in Newark.
Related: A.T. Moffett Helps Kids Shine Through the Arts in Delaware