The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.

Ceramics Monthly: What role does tactility play in your work? 

Catherine Satterlee: Merriam-Webster says that tactility refers to the capability of being felt or touched or responsiveness to stimulation of the sense of touch. For me, tactility is the prime motivation for making. I have always loved working with my hands, and there is no more basic experience than working with clay. There is something primal about taking a piece of the earth in hand and shaping it. Even when clay objects are covered in glass in a museum, they still seem to invite us to touch them. 

1 Cachepot IX (Tower of Babel), 11¼ in. (28 cm) in height, stoneware, colored thin slabs, incised, underglazes, fired in oxidation to cone 6, 2023.

CM: What role do you think makers play within today’s culture? How do you think you contribute? 

CS: I think makers today do pretty much what makers have always done—through their engagement with a medium, they make a connection to ideas and feelings and convey those to others. Bringing something into being that didn’t exist before is magical, and makers share that magic through their work. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my lack of traditional schooling in ceramics, I think I contribute to this age-old art form by being willing to make mistakes, try new things, and take risks. 

2 Rosie’s Cachepot, 8 in. (20 cm) in height, stoneware, underglazes, slips with stains, gel medium, colored thin slabs, incised, fired in oxidation to cone 6, 2022.

CM: How do you develop the forms or surfaces that are prevalent in your work? 

CS: It was during a two-month absence from the studio due to Covid-19 that I developed this latest body of work. Up to that point, most of my work had been subtractive—carving, incising, scraping leather-hard clay, covering it with slips and underglazes, and minimally glazing. But isolated at home with only paint and paper, scissors, and glue, I began making paper bottles and plates and decorating them with cut-up pieces of old gouache paintings. Back in the studio, it occurred to me that I could use this same approach by rolling out paper-thin sheets of clay, coloring them, and then cutting and applying them to basic clay forms, like cladding or sheathing. Like a collage maker, I became fascinated by shards and scraps and saved them for future projects. 

Texture is what usually inspires me. Walking down the street, riding the subway, seeing artwork in a museum, or a textile or quilt, a texture will catch my eye and I’ll want to explore it with clay. Often something unexpected will happen while making a piece that suggests a whole different way of working with the clay. The next step is finding the right form to explore that texture. I try not to plan ahead but rather leave room for changing course. Although I often work in series, each piece is unique. 

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