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

Ceramics Monthly: What techniques do you use to make your work and why?

Norah Amstutz: I was three years old when my family emigrated from Ukraine. I belong to that land through the second-hand experiences of my family. I was greatly impacted by the fables and rich illustrations of Ukrainian storybooks as a child. I recently revisited them and this led me to research Ukrainian embroidery. I’m captivated by the intricate patterns and their hidden meanings and reflections of history. For example, there is one embroidery pattern that mutated over time, transforming from a goddess figure into a flower as Christians conquered the land. This line of research led to a series of urns with images of my family members in traditional Ukrainian clothing. Each urn was surrounded by an embroidery pattern that symbolized the protection of the family. The final urn portrayed me and my younger sister surrounded by an imitation pattern composed of American corporate logos.

1 Requiem for the Soviet Breadline II. 12 in. (30.5 cm) in height, wheel-thrown porcelain, Mayco underglazes, fired in oxidation to cone 6, 2023.

I am currently experimenting with emblematic patterns, using plant imagery to represent concepts that have come to be considered natural over centuries of cultural reinforcement. My strawberry is an emblem of our ability to override nature and the American narrative that trains us to always expect abundance and access. In my urn We Will Soon Be Rotten, the pattern is activated by showing the strawberries rotting in a gradient to represent the American Dream surpassing its shelf life. My most recent work is a series of twelve urns called The Last Supper, depicting twelve present-day disciples of capitalism and those who stand in opposition to them. My work deals with power dynamics, economic systems, and the stories that guide our path in the world.

I worked as a studio assistant for potter Mark Goertzen for seven years; much of what I learned from him still guides the way I work. I am primarily a wheel thrower. This summer, I was gifted a torch by potter Alec Hoogland, and now most of my pieces are a minimum of 20 pounds and thrown in two or more sections. I came of age in a dip-glaze world, but, little by little, carving and painting entered my work and that’s where I found my voice. Images are the primary way we consume and share information now. Through inlay, carving, and underglaze painting I am able to explore concepts and forge my own path, though I still count myself among the number who love traditional firing techniques. As it becomes more difficult to have access to gas and wood kilns, I feel lucky to be part of the Northern Indiana Clay Alliance and have access to atmospheric firings annually, but my day-to-day destiny is the electric kiln. I am now a religious user of Mayco underglazes.

2 We Will Soon Be Rotten, 3 ft. 3 in. (1 m) in height, wheel-thrown porcelain, Mayco 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?

NA: My favorite art opens a door and inspires you to consider something new—this can be technical or conceptual. I think the role of the maker is to explore and share their findings. I take inspiration from Osa Atoe, Jennifer Kaplan, Renee LoPresti, Roberto Lugo, Marret Metzger, Janina Myronova, Cristal Sabbagh, and Maurice Pillard Verneuil. 

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