Studio Visit: Molly Berger, Denver, Colorado

Just the Facts

Clay
mid-range stoneware

Primary forming method
handbuilding

Primary firing temperature
cone 6 in an electric kiln

Favorite surface treatment
letting the touch of my hand and qualities of the raw clay show through to the surface

Favorite tools
a makeup sponge

Studio playlist
podcasts, audiobooks, music, and sometimes just the quiet

Wishlist
bigger windows

Studio

When I left graduate school and moved back to Denver, Colorado, I was starting at square one again in regards to studio space. Luckily, my boyfriend and I found a place to live (ironically in a Denver neighborhood called the Potter Highlands) that has a 200-square-foot finished basement, which would become my studio. A few weeks before we moved, I received a $500 Get Ready Grant from CERF+ to create an ergonomically designed studio. The purpose of the grant was to focus on the fit between myself and my workspace with the aim of alleviating stress on my body. The grant not only allowed me to purchase shelves, tables, seating, etc., for my new studio, but also gave me the opportunity to think through the best way to construct a studio within the space I have, while limiting the chances of workspace-related injury and preventing repetitive strain over the course of my artistic career.

I invested in a customizable work table that allows me to stand and work at proper elbow height and maintain a neutral and erect body position, relieving stress on my shoulders, neck, and back. Similarly, I was able to purchase an adjustable stool with lumbar support that allows me to easily sit at that same tall table while maintaining a healthy body position. I also have a separate, lower table for wedging clay that is 34 inches tall, which is perfectly suited for my height, hitting me just lower than my hips. I also utilize anti-fatigue mats when standing for significant periods of time. The flow of my studio runs counter-clockwise from bagged clay to wedging table, to work table and in-progress table, to shelving, my desk, and finally to a packing and shipping space. The shelving in my studio is all customizable as well, and was put together so that I almost never need to lift objects from above eye level or below knee level, and anything heavy is stored near mid-body height. Heavy objects that live on the floor in my studio, such as reclaim buckets and extra clay, are on dollies for easy moving. Up the stairs from my studio is a door to our back patio, which has a small covered section that houses my kiln. But the best thing in my studio is a small, lime-green foam roller that I use to massage my wrists and forearm tendons, which tend to get really sore.

Paying Dues (and Bills)

I sort of stumbled into clay in the last semester of my final year of college. After graduating, I spent a year as a special student at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, and two additional years as a post-baccalaureate student at the University of Colorado. From there, I went on to complete residencies at the Carbondale Clay Center and Anderson Ranch Arts Center. I also taught ceramics classes and workshops, and worked at the Harvey/Meadows Gallery and Artstream Nomadic Gallery, before settling in Denver.

Building my own studio practice, after spending six years working within established art institutions, was an important clarifying moment. Without a community of makers surrounding me, there were no other voices or opinions to absorb and nobody holding me accountable, making sure I was showing up and putting in the work everyday. My first studio space in Denver was in the garage of the house I was living in at the time. It was a makeshift studio, and when it got really cold or really hot, I’d set up a table to work on in my living room. I didn’t have my own kiln so I packed my work into my truck and drove it across town every time I needed to fire it. It wasn’t pretty, but the work got made. This arduous time pushed me to better understand my priorities in the studio, helped me to slowly think through what I was really after in the work I was making, and tested whether or not I had the wherewithal to really do this whole artist thing.

I went to graduate school, but decided it ultimately wasn’t the right place for me and left after my first year. I moved back to Denver and started making work in the studio that I have now. Currently, I work full time for a youth-based non-profit at a job that I love and also manage a traveling pottery gallery called the Artstream Nomadic Gallery (www.artstreamgallery.com). Those two things provide enough income that I don’t have to rely on money constantly coming in from my studio practice to support me financially. It frees me from consistently being in production mode and allows more space for play, failure, and experimentation—all the good stuff that makes being in the studio fun.

Marketing

Instagram has existed since very early on in my clay journey, so that has almost always been a tool for me to get my work in front of people, for better or worse. I’m not very good at photography and don’t much enjoy it, so that is definitely a disadvantage to my own marketing of my work. While social media has led to a couple of outlets to show and sell my work, most gallery and retail opportunities have come from connecting with people in real life. It has been absolutely invaluable to have a network of friends and mentors who support me and are willing to advocate on my behalf.

My work is available at local shops, galleries, farmers markets, and on my website, but very rarely is it in all of those places at once. Since making isn’t my full-time job, sometimes there is a demand for the work that I just can’t meet, which is a problem I don’t mind having.

Most Important Lesson

It’s easy for me to get caught up in completing tasks on to-do lists, but I try to regularly remind myself that balance is important. It’s a beautiful drive from Denver into the mountains, and I try to get outside when I can. I love to go camping, hiking, and skiing. I also really like reading historical fiction and recently finished All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which I highly recommend. If the weather is nice and I need a short break, I’ll take my dog for an extra walk, sometimes I’ll go to a yoga class, or I’ll ride my bike someplace nearby for happy hour.

One simple, but significant lesson I’ve learned from working in galleries is how important it is for an artist to be uncomplicated to work with. Simple things like punctuality, communication, and friendliness are really meaningful. Of course, the work you make is most consequential, but being reliable and easy to work with goes a long way in establishing and maintaining positive relationships with gallery owners and staff.

www.mollyberger.com
Instagram: @mollsbubble
www.artstreamgallery.com
www.cerfplus.org

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