Clay Buddies: Donna Casellas-Banks

Clay Buddies: Donna Casellas-Banks

Donna in the ATL East Fork store

Donna Casellas-Banks’s title here at East Fork is sales associate but it should be professional listener. She can tell when she’s talking to a plate person or a bowl person and she knows who should (and shouldn’t) dive headlong into a seasonal glaze.

What do you do at East Fork?

I’m a sales associate at the Atlanta store, so my job is to make people feel at ease when they come in. I listen to them so that I can help align their interests and desires with the beautiful, useful things we sell. Sometimes I even talk them out of things.

A sales associate telling people not to buy something? Tell me more.

If you really listen to people, they tell you what they need. What I do is build the whole picture. So if someone tells me they find earth tones soothing and those are the colors found throughout their home, I’m going to steer them toward the year-round glazes Amaro, Panna Cotta, Eggshell and Morel. That’s what they like!


If I see that person reaching for something like Lapis because it’s the new color, I’m going to try to get them to think in terms of accent colors, not something they should necessarily buy a whole lot of. Because I heard what that person said! Or, I’ll ask questions like, “Where do you eat in your house?” and “What do you like to cook?” If someone is telling me they eat in front of the television, I’m not going to suggest they buy all Dinner Plates. I’m going to help them see that they need some of our Everyday Bowls.

I’m still thinking about how you get strangers to admit to you that they eat in front of the TV.

When people feel heard, and when you get to be in one another’s company, you figure it all out together. If I can get someone to share their name with me and I can share my name with them, that creates abundance as we’re getting to know one another. I can help that person find the thing that makes their heart flip over if I can get them to talk about what they need, what their home is like. In the Atlanta store, we have “a sparsely merchandised table” for playing with table settings and that’s where it really all comes together, when people can really see how everything looks together. Then they can imagine what it will look like in their homes. That’s what they like!

How have the day-to-day rhythms of the Atlanta shop changed since re-opening? What else is different now?

We take every precaution to keep everyone who comes in safe, so we’re cleaning in the morning, before customers arrive for their appointments and again at the end of the day. We are taking appointments and that’s different from when people just come in from the plaza, because maybe they’re just discovering East Fork.


With the appointments, we have the luxury of time. I’m able to give each person my undivided attention and we get to a level of intimacy, talking about their lives and what they’re looking for in a way that’s really fine-tuned and purposeful. I’ll put on their favorite music and get to know them. They can have some wine or a snack, if they like, too, and that’s nice for setting a relaxed mood for their visit.

You’re making me want to book an appointment with you, and I work here! How did you come to start working at East Fork?

I came to an event at the store and was casually invited to think about joining the retail team by Alex and Connie Matisse. I am naturally drawn to creatives and upon meeting the East Fork team, I felt like I had met kindred spirits. In my mind East Fork had designed a business model around an essential human experience—oh boy given the time to think about it...I wanted to be immersed in this and bring my love of food, yakking/connecting with people and my respect and love for the creative process here and be part of making the whole uniquely better.

Hey, Connie! What do you remember about meeting Donna?

Connie: Oh geez, Donna immediately caught our attention with the way she carried herself through the room, was so smartly dressed, made intentional eye contact, and asked thoughtful questions that somehow got at the humanity and the science of what we were doing. She's an incredibly impressive woman!

Connie: Oh geez, Donna immediately caught our attention with the way she carried herself through the room, was so smartly dressed, made intentional eye contact, and asked thoughtful questions that somehow got at the humanity and the science of what we were doing. She's an incredibly impressive woman!

Donna, where else has your career taken you?

I have worked as an art therapist with children and adults on inpatient psychiatric units. Then I became a pharmaceutical sales representative. I helped launch historic drugs like Claritin, pulmonary drugs, mood stabilizers for depression and psychosis, enteral feeding tubes, nutritional substrates and mechanical devices like OraQuick Advance an HIV Rapid Testing Platform.

It sounds like you’ve always been surrounded by people, even though your career has taken you to such different places. What have your work experiences given you beyond the paycheck? Anything you can apply to working in the East Fork shop?

Yes! Any relationship that you cultivate over time is an investment, no matter what you’re helping people do. It’s a pleasure to become part of their experience. Food really sets the tone for how you make your home. Think about how much it means to gather at your table and of all the memories and traditions that start there.

Let’s talk more about you, Donna. How did your family shape your interests?

My interest in the arts was natured by a family of creatives. My dad was a painter, my uncle was a professional photographer and my auntie a writer. I remember being a kid and our entry foyer was where all my paintings, drawings and craft projects were displayed. This experience shaped my childhood. In my home today I have a collection of paintings, print media, and textiles that speak to me.

You grew up in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. I heard you grew up on a pretty special street.

I lived on a city street called Willoughby Avenue which ran straight through multiple intersecting culturally diverse neighborhoods from the Marcy Projects where Jay-Z grew up, through the Hispanic family sector which boarded on the Hasidic and Italian neighborhoods and dead-ending in Bushwick. You could just walk a couple of blocks in either direction and hear different languages, vibrant music, the smell of all kinds of delicious cuisines coming from open kitchen windows. One of my favorite things to do in the early evening back in the day in Brooklyn, was to walk through different neighborhoods and look at all the beautiful brownstones and witness how people lived their lives at home.

And you lived in New Jersey before moving to Georgia. Where do you live now?

I live on a sleepy back road in a town called Conyers, which is east of the Atlanta hub. My home is near the International Horse Park and many of my neighbors own horses and ride them casually down the street during nice weather.

Now that’s one thing I bet you never saw on Willoughby Avenue! But seriously, when you moved to the South, did you have any culture shock at all?

In the north we are closely clustered together, we speak quickly, express our expectations succinctly…done. In the South, there is so much more space to be in and occupy literally and figuratively. The pace at which we express intentions in the South is occupied by a get-to-know-you cordially first and then a relaxed approach to getting things done.

When did you come to feel like Atlanta is home?

I inherited a home with a ton of curb appeal. It sits on a horseshoe driveway with manicured shrubs punctuated with an island of trees. This is the work that the Tanners, who had lived here before me, put in to make a beautiful landscaped home. Then one year, I started a perennial garden nested on the side of the house with many brightly colored lilies, jasmine, rosemary and flowering ground crawlers in between. Every year this brightly hued garden in purple, yellow and orange comes back and I am reminded of the time I decided to settle in and dig in and this place became my home.

How do you want your home to make you feel? I remember years ago, I was watching Oprah and it was an episode about Oprah’s life. She spoke about the idea of home as a place that “rises to meet you.” I never forgot that. What does the idea of a home rising to meet you mean to you?

You know, your home is the culmination of your life. I have cherished things in my home that I’ve had for 20 and 30 years, and I’ve brought them with me as I’ve moved from place to place. They mean so much to me.

This sounds like a good place to ask you about the five objects you want to share with us. What’s the first one?

I have my grandmother’s silver flatware. Nana bought herself a few place settings and I found a few more over time and I now have six. And I use it every day. She didn’t. Nana used it only for special occasions. But when I use it, it’s like having her with me every day at my table.

That is just lovely. Tell us about your other objects.

I love all kinds of music and I have a collection of vinyl records. The record shown here is a recording from 1953 called Study in Brown featuring Clifford Brown and Max Roach. A really good day for me is listening to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue LP on a Sunday afternoon with the back door open, taking in the view of my garden.


I collect Buddha statues. I find them whimsical and they tend to be portrayed and crafted in so many different ways. The larger hand-carved wooden Buddha belonged to my Auntie Terry, a writer and graphic artist. It’s what initiated my collection.


I love original pieces of art and I have a large collection of paintings and mixed media objects throughout my home. The more colorful and expressive the art is, the happier it makes me feel. The image rendered of Frida Kahlo is a multi-media painting by Yvonne Davis. The Black Mermaid is an oil painting by an up-and-coming Haitian artist that my father and I decided I should purchase for my art collection.


I have a sweet silver and pearl inlay magnifying glass that my mom gave to me. I remember her cupping it secretly in her hands and revealing it to me with joy and laughter in her eyes.


The orange glass vases were molded with copper fittings by a glass artisan. I found them while antique shopping.

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1 comment

Excellent write up on Donna. She is such an amazing person!! Many blessings Donna ❤ I definitely will be calling you so I can set up an appointment. What days are you in the store?

Splendora Motley

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