A few years ago I made myself a teapot- a vessel that I made to replace my trusty quart-jar. Most nights I make up a quart of nettle infusion that sits overnight on the counter and I drink throughout the next day (usually one for me, and one for my dog Piper). Instead of a plain ol’ mason jar, I wanted to make a special special vessel just for me. Just for that. Something that ooozed beauty for my beloved nourishment ritual. So I made a piece that I really loved! It worked great and looked absolutely gorgeous. It was versatile- ranging from being a great coffee pot to tea pot to plant water-er and more. Although time went on…and I found myself starting to reach for my trusty ol’ quart jar again. It wasn’t even really a conscious thing- I just started to use my fancy teapot less and less. Maybe it was because I was making a ton of them in the studio and the sight of it was stressing me out…or maybe it was the utilitarianism of the perfectly sealing lid, ease of use, and simple glory of my 2nd favorite tool in the kitchen: the quart jar. It just works. And it functions exactly how I want it to. I understand why I sought out to make a prettier, more personal replacement. I think that is perhaps the blessing AND the curse of being handy- knowing you *could* even when maybe…you *shouldn’t*.
That moment was a pivotal one for me in this path I’m on as a functional artist. A pretty golden reminder of the WHY behind this work. No, I am not here to make things that just look cool. I am interested in making the things that you and I will continue to reach for day after day. Like how every single mug I’ve picked up for the last 13 years (since I threw my first mug) I can’t help myself but intensely investigate. I’ve gotten discreet at it now- like if you went out for coffee with me, you probably wouldn’t notice I was even doing it. But sure enough, if you were to glance down at my hands- they’d be feeling up every inch, holding it different ways, and exploring the hand-feel in every way possible, haha! My partner is used to me quizzing him on how he objectively likes or dislikes any mug he picks up haha. The story of my love/hate relationship with mugs is for another time…back to this one. So yeah, fast forward to the last teapot I made. Excitedly ready to quit production on them despite the demand still present. I guess perhaps for some, their potter being overly obsessed with functionality isn’t always a plus (if you’re one of the folks out there who never got their hands on a teapot- sorry! But also not…).
Now, for the inevitable social media part of this essay (you knew it was coming…). The teapot was a hit. I remember posting my first photo of it and it got more likes than any other pot picture I posted before. People were all over it! The form (in my opinion) WAS very beautiful and had an extremely photogenic nature to it. More than I’d say most of the classically refined designs in my collection. In my experience, I’ve seen this happen with a lot of potters. They blow up on social media because of a certain piece that goes viral. Everyone is obsessed. It looks perfect on someone else’s feed and so it is going to look perfect on yours. Publications put it in their gift guides or share it because- again- it stand out in a photo. There is a fascinating element of functional art and social media right now. Or I guess, just modern day technology. Even with me, there are tons of people who don’t feel my work before purchasing. There are lots of people who buy a whole dinnerware set before even feeling a piece. In all honesty, there are times I have thought to myself: “fuck. I need to make something that goes viral so I can stay relevant”. I need to find that edge. To make that form that is the one that everyone wants to put in their gift guide or share or pose with and so others want to pose with it. I started to think maybe the teapot was that piece for me. The thing that whenever I shared people would drool over. When I came to my sudden realization that I didn’t really want to use my teapot any longer- there was a part of me that felt resistant to letting this design go. Letting go of the way it impacted my social media presence. (Oof. There’s something that sums up life as an artist in 2021 😵💫…but shouldn’t, and is beautiful to be in practice with being in resistance to). As I continued to mull it over- the deeper voice within continued to say “fuck it” louder and louder. I continued reaching for my glass quart jar, with more and more of a ferocious desire to use it. And more and more rebellion against the me-made teapot that ooozed of beauty. My deeper identity felt seen by the old quart jar in ways it wasn’t seen by the fancy teapot. I felt like me when I used the $2 quart jar. And my medicine making felt more potent. It can be a vulnerable feeling as a full time artist to stop making pieces that have a demand still. The O’Keeffee Country Mug and Bale colorway are two good examples. People have literally cried over me stopping making that mug (I wish I was joking)!
I think back to when I first began to throw. Why I continue to throw. What my process IS in designing these pieces. It isn’t with a pad and paper. It’s funny how I always felt this odd sense of shame saying that- like to be an artist, ideas have to be birthed in this very cliche string of events. Sitting down, mapping out my creations with a pen and paper, drawing up prototype after prototype…etc etc. it wasn’t until recently that I really started to own the fact that I don’t really enjoy doing that. And it doesn’t make me any less of an artist. In retrospect, not that it even matters or is about this, but I think it makes me more of an artist for leaning into my unique identity AS an artist. Anyways, yeah. My inspiration comes from being a lover of the kitchen. Since day one, I made functional tableware. My fascination with clay comes from loving to cook and bake and have people over to cook for and to nourish myself and others. It comes from making the things I need and want to use in the kitchen. I was a potter when I first moved out onto my own when I was 18. I remember excitedly making dishes for my first apartment! I remember all the random pieces I trucked out with me to colorado. And the ones that I kept using time and time again. Still do! (Although many have been boxed up as they are just too precious to risk breaking- the make up the AWD archive now.) The medium mixing bowl, the low plate bowl, the cereal bowl, the tumbler, the pincher. The pieces you see on my site are evolutions of the wares I have been making and using for all this time. The things someone will pick up to use time and time again. And for me and from what I have found, is that those vessels are the simple ones. Making something pretty is one thing, but making the piece that someones hand will crave to keep picking up- that is what I am after. They don’t need a flashy update to go viral on social media. I hate that I have to continue and continue to remind my head and heart of that through the seasons. My work simply isn’t about that. It’s not about looking good. I mean, it *does* look good…but it is humble. It is timeless. It is not meant to be a statement. It might end up being a statement depending on how you decorate your home and what else is in it…but in my house- filled with finding from all over and objects passed down in my family- it blends in, but stands out because of its usefulness. It stands out because the of the countless meals in our Forage Bowls, how they feel like home. It’s like I get withdrawl syndrome when I’m traveling and not using handmade pottery (If I’m driving somewhere on a trip- you know I’ve brought some pots use. At the very least a cup or mug for my herbs!). But when I come home and have a meal, I know I am home. I open my mug and tumbler cupboard, which is like a cabinet of curiosities, and delightfully choose the one I want to use that day…for THAT beverage.
They aren’t made to sit on a table unused and gleaming like they’re a diamond. They are meant to be the thing that after a really fucking long day, you brew some tea and sit on the couch or outside on the quiet dark porch with stars and frogs chirping just taking in sip by sip. Grateful to have that moment of stillness- nothingness. A moment you wouldn’t dare try to capture for the IG. Because it is for you and yourself. And alongside the waves of calm each sip bring you, my hope is that the vessel you will be holding holds you back. That your fingers wrapped around its warmth ripple through you. And it’s feels like home. Like Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass”, The “thing” is now a verb. It is a place. A feeling. It is so far from a thing. It is something that witnesses you in moments you wouldn’t dare try to capture for IG. The ones few and far between (for some). The tender and vulnerable ones. The scary or embarrassing ones. Or the straight up glorious ones that feel too cruel to share with others or too special to attempt to document. So yes, I’m on here on this app sharing photos- but I guess I’m also here to talk about the pieces I make for the moments unseen. The ones that don’t make it onto the grid- for better or worse. Having difficult conversations/ processing a difficult conversion with our partner. Finding out bad news. The blissful feels of a toasty morning shower with a hot mug of coffee in hand. Berry picking and then devouring said-berries on the spot before they even make it inside (my favorite)'. Recovering after surgery. Feeling nervous for a job interview. Hosting a meal for sacred family or friends. Feeling climate grief admits another season of wildfires. Sitting out on the porch at night with a joint and a mug of bedtime tea gazing at the full moon. The last few sips of a nightcap before bed. The list goes on. They see us through fear, loneliness, love, bliss, sadness, grief, exhaustion, rest, tears, anger, contentment, and so much more.
So I’m just here. It’s 9:52pm and I just rushed over the couch after filling up tonight’s nettle infusion in my trust ol’ quart jar…to talk about art and being a maker and functionality….and no, not everything in your kitchen needs to be made out of clay *just because it can be*. And you should for sure keep life’s most special moments- with or without your beloved AWD vessels beside- just for yourself.
A piece written in April 2021, edited in August 2021.
cover photo by Jacki Potorke