Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what kind of schooling/training did you receive, what type of ceramics do you create?
I grew up in Georgia — from a long line of Southern farmers, so I guess you could say I've always had a connection to the earth, to dirt and mud and clay. But my first brush with pottery came when I got lost on a school field trip to a local women's college when I was in third grade or so. Trying to find the rest of my group, I somehow stumbled into the college's pottery studio, where I saw a woman turn a ball of clay into a big, beautiful bowl on a potter's wheel. For me it was like magic. From that point on, it was something I wanted to do. My parents gave me a little toy pottery wheel for Christmas one year, but it wasn't until I took a class in tenth grade that I really learned how to work that magic and made anything worth saving. I loved working with clay, but that was the end of it for a while. I focused on more "serious" subjects, got into Harvard, and moved up to Cambridge, where I happily studied history, literature, and art for four years, but never once set foot in a studio.
A few years later I was living in New York, working at the Metropolitan Museum, when a boyfriend, who had heard me talk of that love of pottery long ago, gave me a class as a birthday present. That changed my life. I was totally hooked -- the first one waiting at the studio door every Saturday morning, and the last one they kicked out on Sunday night. Two years later, I was teaching my own class in the evening. I still had my day job (as a magazine writer and editor by then), but, more and more, ceramics became my life.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
From the very beginning, I'd say, inspiration really came from within — just a desire to make things, like a little kid who loves to paint and draw for the pure joy of it. Only later when I became somewhat competent did I really start looking around and seeing other work. I'd think, "Now that's a really beautiful shape," or "I wonder how he made that lid" or "My God is that ugly! Why did it sell for $2000?" I suppose the aesthetic I find consistently beautiful is what I call simple Japanese. Clean shapes, unfussy glazes. There's a sort of purity I strive for. In fact, I love my pieces most when they're not even dry yet, just sitting on a counter, fresh off the wheel, brand new to the world. I like to turn off my studio light and see them as dark silhouettes against a white wall.
Do you think that being a ceramicist is a talent you are born with or is it something that can be taught?
That's actually something I've thought a lot about — it's a question I have about any kind of talent. Can you teach someone to be a great writer? A master pianist? To understand in their gut how marble breaks or clay moves? Since we all have our own ideas of what qualifies as "good" or "great" or even "genius," there's clearly no way to answer the question definitively. That said, from my experiences as a teacher, I know that an enormous amount can be taught. All my students learned how to make vases and bowls and plates with some level of proficiency. And everyone can get better with practice, much better with much practice. And I still remember things my teacher told me that made me a better potter. But I know, too, that some students learn much faster than others and that a rare few seem to understand immediately how to work with clay and who, to my mind, have an innate sense of "beautiful design" -- how large a vase's shoulders should be in relation to its base, how gentle the curve in a bowl so that it seems to slice through the air with no effort at all. These things are much harder to define, and therefore much harder to teach.
What pieces have you NOT created and are you looking forward to working with in the future or would like to try to make?
I've always loved making pieces that people actually use. In some ways it freed me to think of my pieces as useful at the very least. If anyone liked the way they looked, all the better, but I shied from using the word "art" to describe what I did. Now, I find I embrace "art" more and more. The word doesn't intimidate me the way it once did — instead, I look around me and see art anywhere and everywhere, something I encourage my children to notice as well. Look! I say, See the patterns, see the colors! Art is everywhere, in nature, in the built environment, on the bottoms of your sneakers (we've made clay stamps from those patterns). In recent years I have been making pieces that aren't useful at all, sculptural work with clay that incorporates other materials as well — twigs, twine, pebbles. It has opened up the way I see my own work and the possibilities for clay. I still love to make vases and bowls, but I want to spend more time on pure art, on pieces that make people stop and look. Sometimes think. Sometimes laugh.
If you did not become interested in ceramics what do you think you would be doing now?
I guess I'll always see myself as a writer. I made my living as a writer and editor for years, and I still love words and the power of language. In fact, I've been trying to figure out ways to bring words into my clay work. I realized recently that there are poems or passages I love, which just sit in closed books, so I have been printing them letter by letter onto balls I make on my wheel. Then I add them to bowls of poetry in my house, so that they are a part of our day-to-day life. If I ever muster up the courage, I might even cover the balls with poetry or stories of my own.
What piece took you the most time to make and why (do you think) it took so long?
Those poetry balls can take a very long time if I pick a very long poem. But the single piece I have spent the most time on is probably a totem I made for the Zimmer Children's Museum a few years ago. It was nearly seven feet tall, composed of giant ceramic eggs stacked one atop the other on a wooden base. Inside each egg was a little ceramic bird playing a miniature instrument, hence its title "Bandshells." It took me a long time to make each component, a long time to put it all together, and a very, very long time to come up with the idea in the first place. And I loved every minute of it.
What is the best and worst advice someone gave you while working as an artist?
Best advice: Really the best thing anyone ever did was encourage me. I remember the owner of the studio where I took that first class in New York pronounced me a "child prodigy." I laughed hard at that since I was the ripe old age of 25 at the time, but I've never forgotten how good it made me feel or how it helped years later give me the courage to leave my day job to do this thing that gave me such joy.
Worst advice: Here, I have to report that my parents (who were generally very loving and encouraging) told me at age 7 that I really couldn't grow up to be an artist and writer as I planned; I needed to do something more practical. I also (clearly) have never forgotten that, and on my darkest days those are the words I hear that rob me of my courage and fill me with doubt.
What is your favorite color or color combinations you like working with (or what do you gravitate towards)?
In New York I worked a lot with matte black and, well, matte black. Here it's all about blues and greens and creamy whites. I'm clearly responding to this life I have in a canyon by the sea. Our house is filled with light and the colors of the nature through our windows. Those are the colors of my pottery these days.
Which artists and/or designers inspire you?
There are a few designers, artists, and architects who are personal friends and who create environments in which my pottery seems to thrive and whose work with color and shape inspires my own: Tina Beebe, Audrey Alberts, Dennis Gibbens, Sasha Emerson, Jay Griffith, Aaron Kramer, Rob Steiner, and Kimba Hills (owner of that gem of a store Rumba in Santa Monica) all come to mind. Honestly, there's no shortage of inspiration in this town — there are some tremendously talented people out there. As for artists I don't know but wish I did, I'd put at the top of that list right now Andy Goldsworthy. Few things have inspired me more than a documentary I saw recently of his work out in the forests and fields near his home in north England. Nothing I say here will do it justice. Google him, find his books, watch the film.
If you could place one of your pieces anywhere in the world where would you love to have it shown? A celebs home, an international place, a landmark etc...
One of the great joys of my work is knowing that it has a life far away from me (and will survive long after I've turned to dust). At this point there are pieces in homes on every continent except Antarctica. But of course as a lover of museums, I can't deny the thrill I'd feel to stumble across something I made at the Whitney, Beaubourg, MOCA, or my favorite little local treasure the Craft and Folk Art Museum. I'm still young and optimistic.
Does your home reflect who are as a ceramicist?
I'm lucky to be married to an architect, Doug Suisman. Even luckier to be married to a good architect! In the early 90's he found a little 50's house in Santa Monica Canyon, renovated it, then added a bit more space after we married and had children. It's hard to imagine a better match for my pottery than our home's "warm Moderism," with its clean lines, sparkling light, and of course a few pieces of classic mid-century furniture — an Eames chair that belonged to Doug's grandfather and a set of Saarinen dining chairs that Doug found abandoned in a parking lot with a "Please Take Me" sign. They look just right beside a bowl of poetry.