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HomeUncategorizedHappy 80th Birthday, Susan Jacobs!

Happy 80th Birthday, Susan Jacobs!

Lived for a while on the Hill? Local potter Susan Jacobs is undoubtedly a familiar figure. Long-time Hill resident Chuck Burger can’t remember when he met Jacobs. “She was just always there with her work and her witty repartee,” he said. The artists at Eastern Market Pottery (EMP) “were always scrapping together,” Burger said laughing.

Jacobs “is kind of someone who holds your perception of the Hill together,” Burger added. She “helps make sense of everything in some way. I mean, you meet her on the street and you know you are on Capitol Hill.”

The Hill has grown over the 55 years that Jacobs has been there, Burger noted, but despite her small stature, “Susan still has wide enough arms to embrace us all.”

On April 17, Susan Jacobs turned 80, celebrating an extraordinarily colorful, interesting life with her chosen Capitol Hill family.

Early Life
An only child, Susan Jacobs was born in New York on April 17, 1944. A slight woman, she describes her infant self as a “butterball.” After high school, she attended Vassar College and then spent about two years working as a social worker in New York City.

Jacobs quit her job in 1969 to camp across the country for eight weeks. Broke at the end of her travels, she crashed with a college roommate in DC. A year and a half later, she moved into an apartment house on the Hill with a different set of friends. Jacobs lived there for the next 40 years.

Becoming a Master Potter
Jacobs had barely been in the District, selling postcards at the National Gallery of Art, when a coworker introduced her to the owner of EMP, then located upstairs in Eastern Market’s Center Hall. By 1973, Jacobs went to work crafting little pottery owls. The studio sold them for 50 cents each. Jacobs got 20 cents an owl.

Susan Jacobs in her studio ca. 2009. Photo: Andrew LightmanSusan celebrates her 80th birthday with friends on 11th Street SE. Photo: Elizabeth O’Gorek

Shortly after beginning lessons at the studio, Jacobs became an apprentice, eventually rising to manager. It was never a lucrative position, but she loved it. By the end of her career she could look across the room and tell you who had made a pot.

Jacobs told the Capitol Hill Oral History Project in 2009 that the early days in DC were “a very ‘70s situation.” She recalled that “it was quite relaxed, let’s put it that way.” There was a pay phone on the wall, “and we just took clay and we threw it at the phone, and so for a week the phone would ring but you couldn’t get to it because it was encased in clay. And no one seemed to really worry about it.”

After 50 years, Jacobs and the studio parted ways in January 2024. It was time to go in a different direction, explained Jacobs. “Susan was a formative part of making Eastern Market Pottery as it exists today and we celebrate her legacy and contributions to the community,” said co-owner Sarah Buffaloe. “We are grateful for all she has done over the years.”

Jacobs said she still isn’t sure what she’s going to do next. Wanting to broaden her options, she considered a former student’s offer to pay for a computer course. “I might do it,” Jacobs told me. “But I might do it in Italian, to keep it interesting.”

Neighbors Become Family
Throughout the a980s, Nancy Metzger often saw Jacobs selling her pottery at Eastern Market. However, they had never really spoken. One day, while returning with her spouse on the Metro, Metzger noticed Susan asleep on a nearby seat. When the train pulled into Eastern Market Station, the two decided to wake her up. Afterwards, Susan started visiting for frequent dinners. “You get to know people over dinner,” Metzger said.

Dinner is a sort of a joke among Susan’s closer friends. She rarely cooks. However, she has a standing dining invitation almost nightly with a different friend. Friends are her chosen family.

Susan Jacobs and Elizabeth Murray. Photo: Elizabeth O’Gorek

Elizabeth Murray and her family dine with Susan most Thursdays. Murray and her husband, who moved to the Hill in 2005, met Susan through a mutual neighbor. Their friendship really developed during COVID, Murray said. They made a pact to have weekly outdoor dinners, heaters blazing.

“I hope she never has grandiose ideas of inviting me for dinner, as the horror stories she has openly shared when she has prepared a dinner party for friends are hysterical,” said Murray.

Murray is grateful for Jacobs’ friendship, valuing her spirit. “Cooking is not her forte, but her warmth, kindness and fun spirit make her a friend and neighbor everyone would want to have,” she said.

An adventurous approach to life defines Jacobs for many, but her imperturbable attitude is not her whole person, say friends. “I don’t think she’s really carefree, because she cares so much,” Metzger said. Jacobs adapts to changing circumstances in her own life, but at the same time she is deeply concerned about other people.

“She finds beauty and friendship in people who others don’t stop and talk to,” Metzger said, people who others don’t even see. “I think she’s always had that,” Metzger said. “It’s why she does the things she does.”

Serving Her Community
During her 55 years on the Hill, Jacobs has given back to the community in countless ways. She volunteers nearly everywhere, serving lunches to unhoused friends at Capitol Hill United Methodist and at the Church of the Brethren, acting as docent for the Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s (CHRS) annual house and garden tours as well as at Capitol Hill Village (CHV), Hill Center and the Southwest Duck Pond. Jacobs can regale listeners with architectural historical facts, identify a duck flying by and describe the District’s great poets and artists.

Volunteering has integrated Jacobs multigenerationally into her community. When they were nine years old, the youngest of Murray’s three daughters began visiting the Southwest Duck Pond with Jacobs to feed the ducks. Rising at 5:30 a.m., the three would make the nearly two-mile journey from 11th Street SE, often dragging a 40-pound bag of feed in the wagon.

Jacobs considered moving back to her hometown or relocating to Dupont Circle, which seemed a bit more like New York City. However, Jacobs has fallen in love with her neighborhood, a community she helped to build. “The Hill,” she remarked, “seems to me to combine the best of every world.”

It does, largely because of people like Susan Jacobs.

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