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Mold-makers cast net of success across Mississippi and the world

Bill Stephens, holding one of the final products from the molds, and his daughter, Jennifer Nugent, stand with some of thousands of molds in the 15,000-square-foot warehouse of Magnolia Molds off of U.S. 80. (Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[12/13/04] When he was 18 years old, Bill Stephens found a hobby in ceramics, and that led to a business that has been serving Mississippi artists and companies across the world for 40 years.

“I always enjoyed it; it was always fascinating to me,” he said. “And, as a machinist, I had always worked with my hands. It came naturally to me, that was my advantage over most people.”

Stephens’ hobby started while he was in basic training at Fort Polk, but his career as a civilian worker in civil service landed him at Columbus Air Force Base.

It was there that he started Magnolia Molds, a business that has continued to thrive since he moved back to Vicksburg in 1982.

And over the years, his molds have been used by Mississippi artists including Gail Pittman and the Woods brothers of Peter’s Pottery.

Though Stephens says he’s retired, the company serves customers in Atlanta, New Orleans, England, Norway and Canada.

“And most people don’t know we’re right here in Vicksburg,” he said of the 15,000-square-foot warehouse on U.S. 80. “I make a good living out of it; I can’t complain.”

Stephens still helps his daughter, Jennifer Nugent, who has taken over the business, on a daily basis.

“She was born into it,” he said.

And she admits, “It’s all I’ve ever known.”

Companies can find the types of products that Magnolia Molds through the Internet, but Stephens said word of mouth has been the best advertisement.

“They always end up at me somehow,” he said.

Magnolia Molds goes through four or five truckloads a year with 44,000 pounds of plaster per truckload.

The plaster is mixed with water in a large garbage container and then poured into a rubber mold, where it dries on a huge table that’s covered in drippings. Nearly everything in the shop is white either the plaster molds themselves or droppings or the dust from the molds. In minutes within making several molds, Nugent is covered in the white stuff.

“This is the messiest business there is,” Stephens said.

The company can make plaster and rubber molds for almost anything the mind can imagine. At the shop, molds for 350 porcelain dolls, ceramic beads, light plate switches, crosses, vases, sushi plates and on and on fill row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves. When completed, the molds are sent to manufacturers who use them to make their finished products.

“We do everything,” he said.

They said they have no idea how many molds are there, but it’s probably in the thousands.

“We do it all,” he said. “There are no other places around anymore to do it. So many have closed up.

“Luckily we had everything paid for, so were able to hang in there without any problem.”