Living with a varied collection of ceramics can broaden and deepen aesthetic appreciation and inform the direction of an artist’s work in unexpected ways.
The first piece of handmade pottery I ever purchased was a Warren MacKenzie bowl from the American Pottery Festival at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, circa 2012. I was just beginning my journey in ceramics at the University of Wisconsin-Stout (UW-Stout) and went with the UW-Stout Ceramics Guild to the opening reception of the festival. Tickets were issued to attendees for a chance to purchase a piece by MacKenzie, and as luck would have it, I had the first ticket called. I chose to purchase a beautiful faceted bowl and have been collecting ever since.
Building a Relationship with Pottery
Prior to college, I did not have a relationship with handmade pottery. Handmade objects of any kind were not used in my childhood home or the homes of my extended family. I had also not been to an art museum until a field trip during my senior year of high school. Knowledge of the arts, especially crafts, was limited despite my young interests. My love of the arts was centered around drawing and painting until my sophomore year of college, when I enrolled in a ceramics class. Throughout my childhood, I desired to be an artist, specifically a painter, but once I touched clay on the potter’s wheel, there was no question that I would be making pottery. I have spent the last 10 years surrounding myself with pottery and exploring my own work.
The passion I found for making is what stirred my desire to collect handmade crafts. I was fortunate that the university I chose to attend was coincidentally close to multiple pottery tours and Minneapolis galleries. I began to use the objects I was making and formed a curiosity for the crafts of others that did not exist in my life before. I spent much time early on looking at pictures online or in old Ceramics Monthly magazines in the ceramics studio, but quickly realized that taping pictures up in your studio is very different from living with and using pottery.
Building a Collection
My husband, Tim Bergelin, is also an artist and educator. Our combined collection totals around 120 pots from about 60 different potters. Most of these pots were purchased at the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour or the Western Wisconsin Pottery Tour. Others have been purchased at National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conferences, galleries, or online. About half of our collection is used regularly, with the remaining pieces on display in our main living spaces. The majority of the display pots are vases, pitchers, jars, trays, or other objects that are not used on a daily basis.
When I look at our collection, the pieces that grab my attention most at this time are made by Margaret Bohls, Linda Christianson, Adam Gruetzmacher, Candice Methe, Matt Metz, Jeff Oestreich, Mark Pharis, Melissa Weiss, and Tara Wilson. Some of these pieces have been a part of my daily rituals for several years and bring me just as much joy now as they did when I first held them. My go-to coffee mugs are by Christianson, Gruetzmacher, Metz, and Weiss. Their straightforward, functional forms are a pleasure to use and their varied surfaces are endlessly interesting. I enjoy the complexity and depth of surface achieved by atmosphere, glaze, and/or terra sigillata. A small portion of our collection is made up of pitchers, vases, trays, and a basket. The sculptural vases made by Pharis and Wilson draw my attention due to their sense of compression and release, asymmetry or symmetry, and use of color or atmospheric surface.
A Renewed Passion
Despite the fact that my first purchase was a Warren MacKenzie bowl, my other early purchases were primarily porcelain or white-slipped red clay. I was attracted to what I consider to be a precious approach to pottery making, similar to what I was exploring at that time. I continue to love and use these bright pots as more pieces are added each year. My husband’s purchases and the use of our shared collection slowly changed the way I understood the work of the Minnesota Mingei potters and others. In my early 20s, I was not capable of appreciating these earthy pots the way I do now.
Living with these pots has brought me joy in their beauty and use, but also provided guidance for my own practice in ways that I never anticipated. In undergraduate school, my work was wheel thrown, slip trailed, pastel glazed, and porcelain. I am proud of the work that I made at that time, but I was ready to change everything after living with our growing collection for a few years. I switched to a dark stoneware, terra sigillata, and a coiling and pinching technique. This change has brought a renewed passion for pottery and brought me closer to the works that I admire so much. There is a confidence and connection to my work that is much stronger than what I experienced before, and I can thank all of these artists for that.
the author Kate Marotz is a potter and educator living in central Wisconsin. She continues to expand her collection as she makes her handbuilt wares and writes about ceramics. To learn more, visit www.marotzceramics.com.