Behind the Wheel

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I met Kathryn Schroeder just a few weeks ago at her booth during the Rockbrook Art Fair. I was instantly intrigued when she described her studio space and shared a little about her “slow leap” to pursue ceramics full-time. A couple of days after meeting, I got back in touch and asked about visiting her studio.

She received her BFA and then spent time teaching in Japan. She taught for eight years at Omaha Central High School and continues teaching class through the Joslyn Art Museum and the Union for Contemporary Art. It was recently, just this past summer, that she made the decision that ceramics would be her full-time gig. It was not a decision she took lightly.  While growing up, her parents were hands-on, DIY folks, who always had a project going on. She stated that at home is where she first learned she could be a "fearless maker." Another huge early influence was her grandmother who was a painter. When I entered the studio, I noticed a small distinct piece of pottery sitting on a shelf. That piece was a gift from her grandmother. It's one of her favorites.

Kathryn strives to create functional pieces of pottery that are used for "daily rituals." While visiting her studio, I got to see numerous cups, coffee mugs, vases, bowls and plates. She also shared some new cups she was experimenting with which were inspired by a recent visit to a local maker's studio. As her business continues to grow, Kathryn continues to try and find a balance between producing pieces in larger quantities while making sure each piece remains distinct.

The start of a vase.

Her dog Gogo never strayed far from her feet.

Applying wax to the bottom of the vase prior to glazing.

Kathryn is greatly inspired by radial images and designs.

Her favorite piece of pottery, a gift from her grandmother, adorns a studio shelf.

A few glaze swatches

Freshly-glazed experimental cups on the top shelf.

First, she draws her designs in a sketchbook and then later redraws and places the images on a sketch board visible from her treadle.

One of the main reasons she selected her current home was due to the size of the basement, knowing that it would serve as her studio space.

The treadle was handmade by a former machinist in Illinois.

An on-going to-do list is usually hung near her treadle.

One of her favorite images that is in direct view from her treadle.

In her own words:

What sparked your initial interest in ceramics? I was lucky to have been under the wing of Wilson Custom Tile in high school. The responsibilities we held to other artists, designers, and architects forced me to learn quickly about the nature of clay and I loved it so much! I'm forever grateful.

You spoke about waiting awhile to get the treadle you really wanted. My treadle wheel is based off the old Bernard Leach one except the hardware was redesigned and the frame outside the seat and lever is metal. The man who made it was a machinist by trade and hand-tooled those pieces in addition to building the frame. It's not fancy, but I love the ingenuity and perfection of it as a hard-working, comfortable, simple machine. I haven't had to call him since because of the craftsmanship. Bob Woodard from Lanes End Studio in Evansville, IL designed and built it. One thing I loved was that he only made a few per year, and knew what schools in my area had one. He was very nice and clearly took pride in building a smart variation on an historic design. I kinda wish it had an odometer to prove how well it's built!

You spent time in Japan after college. In what ways did that experience shape your work?  I take the critiques with my Japanese friends very seriously and am thankful that they can remind me of nuances of perspective and history. That may sound prejudiced, but if I can strike a balance between an object that can be appreciated and sold and used here in the Midwest, and an object that doesn't emulate something from Japan, but speaks to an aesthetic that's inherently different, then I feel like I'm building a tiny cultural bridge. On another note, I've researched some work from Nigeria that I also want to delve into. I would really love to travel there, and experience what it means to make pots in Abuja someday too! These experiences help us see better and digest what is context vs. identity of the work.

You’re very interested in experimentation and showed me several new pieces during my second visit. Why is experimentation important to you? I can't imagine not. It's just my way of being- finding new paths, exploring and discovering. Little tests in every kiln, every time, necessarily. We'll never get all of our questions answered if we aren't asking them.

What new pieces do you have in the works? What do you want to try next? About half of my forms for the studio sale are new. After this sale, I want to start work with silk screening some drawings onto pots. I've worked with resist forever, so it isn't a major departure, just a new application process that I'm excited about.

Your studio is in your own home. How do you create life/work balance? I work split shift. I work from 9-3 while my son is at school, and then 9 until midnight or so, after he's gone to bed. I was teaching full-time and working in the studio in the evenings, weekends, and summers for a few years before this. I guess the motivation and ambition has always been there. Home studios have always been the model of the potters in my life too, probably because it's economical, so it was on the horizon before I even owned a wheel.

You described your transition of pursuing ceramics full-time as more of a “slow leap.” What’s your best advice to someone who wants to turn something they’re passionate about into a business? I think one thing we don't anticipate having to manage as we're chasing our dream job, is how much self care, physically and mentally we need to budget for. When you are imagining doing it, it may be an escape, but acclimating to an entirely independent career path is toilsome, and when you're worn out, it's very hard to feel inspired and creative...which is why we make the work in the first place, for ourselves and to help others find it. Don't lose sight of the cause as you actually start paying bills with the work-the real goal should be way higher than that as with any job.

Where are your pieces currently sold? 
Website: Kathryn Schroeder Ceramics, Studio Sale, Handmade Omaha and Bench: MADE Also, check my website for complete postings- some may pop up in December! Also, dear galleries, I'm ready.


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