2021 Emerging Artist: Emma Louise Kaye

Emma Louise Kaye, Easton, Pennsylvania

Ceramics Monthly: What excites you about the field of ceramics?

Emma Kaye: Assisting at Penland School of Crafts in 2016 was one of the early experiences that got me really excited about being involved in ceramics. I was coming from New York City at the time and enamored with the fact that this place could exist where there was such a high concentration of people immersed in a life committed to being makers in a serious way—both at the school and in the surrounding area. The idea that one could sustain themselves via craft and live in a community of others doing the same was a lifestyle that resonated and inspired me to stay committed to clay.

1 Winged Vessel with Channel, 12 in. (30 cm) in length, slab-built stoneware, wood fired and reduction cooled, 2020.

CM: What is the most challenging aspect of working in clay?

EK: A big challenge for me, as someone who has an overly active imagination, has been to establish a set of constraints in my work. This is undeniably tied to the amount of time I spend in my studio versus inside my own head. If I spend too much time in one place or the other, my balance is thrown off and I either feel a lack of inspiration from overexertion (burnout) or get overwhelmed because I am brimming with so many ideas. I believe that every person has a line that they have to walk in their work or life in some way. Simply fostering a sense of self-awareness helps me feel more in touch with maintaining that balance, which invariably impacts my creativity and self esteem. Listening to my body when it wants to rest and recover, seeing when I need to push myself to meet a deadline or take risks, seeking creative outlets outside of the studio setting—I am constantly reprioritizing to be able to do what feels good for me and my art.

2 Boat Vessel I, 17 in. (43 cm) in length, slab-built stoneware, wood fired and reduction cooled, 2019.

CM: How do you come up with the forms that are prevalent in your work?

EK: Art historian Jenni Sorkin wrote about a pitcher made by the potter Marguerite Wildenhain in 1920 (post-World War I) in Germany when she faced food insecurity and near starvation. Sorkin describes the fullness of the pitcher’s belly as representing hope for abundance during a time of severe deficit. This is one of the lenses with which I’ve been examining my work in clay: as a mode to supplement an absence. My forms are conceptually rooted in reconnecting with what I have felt estranged from—a sense of community or connection to the land are often at the forefront. They also embody a bold and assertive side of my character that I don’t tend to show to many people, which is correlated to the feeling of not being seen or heard.

The physical nature of clay, in addition to the wood-fired surface, plays a huge role in determining what I make. My forms are intentionally minimal in anticipation of the powerful and dynamic array of atmospheric effects of the wood kiln. I’m looking for a very particular balance between various visual aspects of the work. If the form is too complex or the surface is too loud, the essential quality of the piece will be lost. The location of each piece in the kiln, in addition to the materials used, thus become decisions of great consequence.

To learn more, visit www.emmakayeceramics.com.

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