Ornament - Contemporary Jewelry with Mallory Wetherell

Thoughts and Process in Jewelry Making

What made you want to start working in jewelry?
The first pieces I made were after the election.  I was feeling a bit helpless. And in an attempt to not feel totally hopeless, I made some porcelain pendants with safety pin paintings on them.  Only three – for my sister, mom, and I.  And then others began to request that I make more.  From the proceeds, I was able to donate 20% to Planned Parenthood.  I enjoyed the process of making them, so I began to expand the imagery, sourcing bits of pieces from my sculptural work.  I continue to donate portions of the sales from my jewelry to organizations that support causes whose values I believe in. 


How has your jewelry making informed your other studio practice?
My jewelry is quick to make in comparison to my sculptural line of work.  So I’m able to treat them like miniature “canvases” to try out new patterns and imagery.  My surfacing process demands a lot of time, so these smaller items allow me a greater opportunity to play in the studio, and they often provide a needed break when I’m frustrated with a sculpture.  I’m also a mom, so studio time is sacred and I have to take it when I can get it.  I might not have a large window to get a new sculpture started, but I can at least keep my hands busy and be engaged with my studio through making jewelry.  My jewelry has a similar aesthetic to my sculptures, so in a way it makes my work more affordable and accessible as well.

Technical Descriptions
With my jewelry, I utilize the same process for applying imagery as I do with my sculptures.  I will either do a sketch on paper, which I then transfer onto tracing paper, flipping it to apply it to bone dry clay – or I draw with pencil right onto the bone dry clay.  Any mistakes are easily rubbed away, allowing for a fresh start.  I then use Duncan Underglazes, treating them like watercolors, to paint in the details.  I then bisque them to 04, apply glaze, fire to 6 (allowing the underglaze to flux a bit, as it’s meant to stay at a lower temperature), and finally luster them, firing to 018.


For more information about Mallory, check out her website: http://www.mallorywetherell.com/

Curators Thoughts about Ornament - Contemporary Clay Jewelry

Curatorial Statement from Jennifer Allen & Lindsay Oesterritter

Jennifer Allen earrings

Jennifer Allen earrings

Lindsay Oesterritter necklace

Lindsay Oesterritter necklace

Ornament- Contemporary Clay Jewelry is an exhibition of jewelry made by 14 artists from across the United States. It showcases a wide range of ideas, techniques and materials. Pieces included range from atmospheric fired necklace pendants to polymer clay earrings. The collection of jewelry featured in the exhibition bridges the varied interests of the artists represented and exemplifies highly crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces.

The tradition of making clay jewelry is not new to the world, but in recent years has gained popularity in the United States. Ceramics is a craft steeped in tradition dating back thousands of years. The earliest known piece of ceramics in the world, a Venus figurine referred to as The Venus of Dolní Věstonice (29,000 BCE-25,000 BCE) was found at a Paleolithic site in what is now the Czech Republic. This figurine predates fragments of fired clay recently found in China and estimated to be the oldest known pottery at 20,000 years old. It is amazing to realize we have been ornamenting ourselves for much longer. The oldest piece of jewelry created by modern humans is believed to be a sea snail shell bracelet discovered in Israel, dating back over 100,000 years. This ancient artifact revealed that the shells were transformed into beads and made into an ornamental bracelet.

The jewelry we wear has long been a personal and cultural symbol for what one perceives as beautiful. Each piece is a distinctive statement that connects us to traditions that have existed long before us. The artists in this exhibition were selected because of their thoughtful approach of composing clay/ceramic works that speak to personal ideas of beauty and ornamentation.

Kerianne Quick's Transmutations

Kerianne Quick is an Assistant Professor of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at San Diego State University. Her work for the Ornament exhibition is from a series of pieces entitled Transmutations. Find out more about the series below.

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The work was created using found bricks dug from the local clay bodies of the Hudson River Valley in the 19th and 20th century, and fired in the now defunct brickyards that dot the riverside. Over the course of a century, hundreds of thousands of unusable bricks were tossed into the river as industrial waste. The banks near the former brickworks are beaches made of brick where they are polished by the water and tumble back to dust in the tidal river. I collected these bricks, researched the marks and history of the region. Using these objects combined with pearls passed-down to me I explored personal and environmental inheritance, regional history, and the aesthetic ideals of the cultures that once occupied those lands. 


Material foraged out of the Hudson River and Rondout Creek are shifted in form, and used to explore the post-industrial landscape, regional histories, the human impulse to adorn, and cultural aesthetics.

The brickworks that once occupied the shores of the Hudson River used its banks to discard failed fired bricks. These failures are the containers of the hope, pride, greed, labor, sweat, process, etcetera of a rich industrial culture.  As remains of an exhausted resource and defunct process they become a finite material. As a material found in but not belonging to the landscape they become a way to examine place, history, and the ways we carry both with us. The fruits of the river; oysters, shad, sturgeon – replaced by brickworks, cement, mineral mines, and stone quarries. As European immigrants settled the land and displaced the native Algonquin speaking tribes – culture and its produce also shifted – from hunter to farmer to industry. From shell, bone, and skin to pearl, metal, and silk.

These hand-cut and carved bricks are combined with pearls, shell, silk, silver and gold. Using stringing, and pearl knotting techniques the work plays between the adornment ideals of the Dutch Golden Age and the ceremonial adornment of the native Lenape Tribes of the Hudson River Valley. The resulting objects are hybrid artifacts that propose a series of cultural substitutions/additions/deletions.

Ornament - Contemporary Jewelry with Kari Radasch

Thoughts on Jewelry

I have always been interested in how nostalgia and memory becomes embedded in domestic objects. I think about this a lot when I make my work. Dishes, for example, have the unique ability to hold a warm, sentimental place in our lives. I often use motifs that recall a sense of discovery or a moment of joy and wonder. In my pots this can be seen as a rain cloud, a confetti storm, or the discovery of a unique feather. I started thinking about these sentimental collections as charms on a bracelet or necklace, and began literally using charms in my work a year ago. I like that these collected charms are unique to each of us and I also love the magical implications to the word “charm”. It has a sensibility that is both fun and “charming”. I used them first on my whiskey cups, where the cup, the charm and the act of drinking sparked a moment of reflection, interruption, and delight.

For over twenty years I have been jousting with the same set of dualities; notions of minimalism and excess, and kitsch and high art. In this vein, the idea of the classic gold and silver charm bracelet was devilishly undermined by my memory of my vintage 80’s Bell charm necklace. I loved the synthetic colors, chattering plastic, the immense selection of charms, and the endless ways to personalize my chain. My necklaces are a response to this recollection and also a celebration of clay, earthenware, the garden, my hands, memory, magic and the act of “making special”.

To learn more about Kari and her work, click here: http://kariradasch.com/

Ornament - Contemporary Jewelry with Joanna Powell

Thoughts about Jewelry

What we choose to wear tells us a lot about a person. It’s a way to express our individuality and it just feels good to wear things we love. I never leave the house without earrings on. They are a staple in my everyday adornment. 

I began making jewelry as a way to think about surface and to have a change of pace in the studio.  Scale influences surface. I found that with the small scale of the earrings, I gave myself more permission to get wild with pattern.  I draw inspiration for pattern from paintings, junk stores, and from looking around everyday. Making jewelry has allowed me to let go of the rules I’d given myself in my studio practice and play with an expanded palette.  

To learn more about Joanna, check out her website: http://joannapowellstudio.com/

Artist - Joanna Powell

Artist - Joanna Powell

Finished pieces

Finished pieces

Works in progress

Works in progress

Rat City Living - Jon Johnson

John Johnson


Website: www.johnsonclay.com

Jon first began to cultivate a love of clay as a student at Texas Tech University. Learning to throw on the potter’s wheel, he quickly learned to appreciate the simple rhythm of making with an intuitive, highly moveable material. Jon experimented with several different firing methods before becoming enraptured with the surface qualities achieved through the soda firing process and has been utilizing this technique almost exclusively in the time since then. Jon graduated from Texas Tech with a BFA in 2011, dabbled in the world of IT and graphic design between 2012 and 2016, and worked as a studio tech at the Helen Devitt Jones Clay Studio on the LHUCA campus in Lubbock, Texas from 2015 to 2017. In the summer of 2017, he knocked off around 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail before heading out to begin a yearlong assistantship with Deb Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios in Seattle, Washington.

Artist Statement:
Making pots is a meditative act. In working with porcelain, I am afforded the ability to create a clean canvas upon which I build layers of glaze in loose patterns. To push these patterns further, I utilize atmospheric firing environments to speak to the pots about Nature in order to develop a wilder surface. I take great delight in the opening of a freshly fired kiln. The discovery of this “unknown” is what drives me to make pots in the manner that I do. The drawings I have begun to incorporate onto the surface of my pots are derived from psychic automatism sketching practice, wherein I focus the mind to be blank in an effort to allow my subconscious to spill forth through the pen. I see this as an extension of uncovering the “unknown,” instead focusing within my mind, rather than on the outside world. To understand the true character of things is at the forefront of why I make; ultimately, I seek to create pottery that encourages use by invoking a sense of natural wonder.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I started at Rat City as an assistant on August 1st of this year, and I hit the ground running with a few busy weeks of events and studio upgrades. Getting to know the local clay community through Deb has been a wonderful and humbling experience thus far, and I’m looking forward to that continuing throughout the year. While here, I’m converting (at least temporarily) to the cone 6 electric environment for my work, and I am really excited by some of the possibilities I’ve come across. Over the next year, I plan to continue the push to get my work into shows and further develop my online presence.

Rat City Living - Rickie Barnett

Rickie Barnett

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Website: rickiebarnett.weebly.com

Rickie Barnett grew up in the Northern California city of Redding. He attended California State University, Chico, receiving a Bachelors of Fine Art degree with an emphasis in painting and ceramics. After Graduating in the fall of 2013 he took up a year long position as an Artist in Residence at Taos Clay Studio in Taos, NM. He has just finished up a long term position in the Seattle area where he worked as an assistant for George Rodriguez and Deborah Schwartzkopf at Ceramistas Seattle ( now known as Rat City Studios). He is now gearing up to move to North Carolina to take up a position as the studio assistant to Cristina Cordova.

Artist Statement:
My work is an internal look at the preeminent issues of being bound to another and the affects it has on an individual.  The malleable nature of clay allows for a quicker way of working in a highly detailed manner. I work figuratively creating characters based on the struggle of balancing relationships, placing them in an open narrative where they can revisit emotions experienced but not quite understood. I strive to provide a sympathetic relation to narrative in the restlessness of living in one’s headspace, an effort to stay honest with myself and my loved ones.  The continual self assessment within our interactions bears fruit which nourishes the bond and eases vulnerability, harvesting growth. 

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
In the early summer of 2015, I was living in a small cabin behind Toas Clay Studio in Taos, NM. My residency was coming to an end and I was in the mist of the ever so chaotic task of trying to figure out what the next step was going to be. My partner at the time had just received a position at Cook on Clay, on Whitbey Island. I had been wanting to get up to the northwest for some time but I didn't want to make the commitment of moving to an island, without a studio. I had recently read an article about Deb's studio in Ceramic Monthly and decided to reach out to her. I knew the deadline for her assistantship position had past but after perusing her website and seeing how connected she was with so many artists in the area, I decide to reach out to her and see if she could point me in the direction of someone needing assistance. To my surprise, she got back to me within a few hours and said that she had an opening available at her studio and that I was welcome to apply. Within a few more days she offered me the position and with great enthusiasm I accepted. 

Shortly after that Deb offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. She had picked up an old 1963 Aloha camper at an estate sale. It needed a lot of work and she gave me the opportunity to live in it, next to the studio, if I could fix it up. I had never done any trailer remodels but I figured I could accomplish it with the help of the internet. It turned out to need a complete rebuild. This was one of the hardest things I have ever taken on by myself. It was also, the beginning of me realizing how Deb goes about mentoring her assistants. 

Deb is not the kind of mentor to hold your hand and help you through something. She will be the first one to tell you that she's not afraid to voice her disappointment in you either. She will balance the strengths you have with the direction in which you want to go and push you to grow and sharpen those skills, no matter how painful. Along the way you will also learn about a bunch of stuff you didn't even know you would be interested in. She will challenge you all day and call you on your bullshit. If you need guidance or are interested in a certain aspect of her work you need to ask for that guidance and that information. You want a crit, ask for it. Otherwise she will just let you keep working. Deb is not interested in reading your mind and she is not interested in babysitting your career. She is interested and driven to help you learn how to swim on your own. If you start sinking and feel like you are drowning, she will get in the water with you and talk you through the strokes you need to make you keep your head above water. She will not bring you a life preserver.  You need to figure this out on your own. But at the end of the day she might invite you out for a beer and talk to you about life and where you want to go. 

Deb Schwartzkopf is a shark. She can not stop moving and if she did she'd probably die. Her sense of urgency is out of this world. If it is decided at a morning meet that the kiln shed needs to be extended, she wants to know if it can be done by the end of the day. You will learn to not doubt that this is, in fact, possible. You will learn to not doubt yourself as much as you have in the past. 

My time at Rat City was easily one of the best times of my life. Both my work and myself grew immensely. I made life long friends and found myself finding huge strides in my work. Deb Schwartzkopf changed my life in a huge way and even though I'm now living on the other side of the country I know, for a fact, that Deb will always have my back when I need it. Even if that's in her telling me to stop bitch and get back in the studio. 

Rat City Living - Zak Helenske

Zak Helenske


Website: www.zakhelenske.com

Zak Helenske was born and raised in Fargo, ND. There, he earned his BFA in Ceramics at North Dakota State University in 2009. Completing his MFA in Ceramics and Ceramic Sculpture at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in 2014 led him to an art practice that crossed disciplines. Zak has been a visiting artist nationally at University of South Carolina, McNeese State University, University of Washington, and internationally at Akademia Sztuk Peinknych in Gdansk, Poland. He has taught at University of Washington, 3D4M and Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Crafts. In 2015 Zak moved to Seattle with his partner, artist Mya Kerner, to be an Artist in Residence at Pottery Northwest. Since completing his residency in January he has set up a studio in Ballard where he maintains a full time studio practice. In May of 2017 he was named Emerging Artist by Ceramics Monthly.

Artist Statement:
I am a potter who is interested in the development of form and the exploration of pattern. My work is wheel thrown and hand built with a gritty terra cotta clay. Surface drawings act as a framework to the pots’ forms with slip work to designate positive and negative space.  By layering patterns on top of each other, carving the surface in and scraping the drawings away, I hope to integrate the surface into the form rather than onto the form. These drawings are then highlighted with a bright white porcelain slip. The immediacy of the brushwork mirrors the directness of the drawings, and the dimensionality of the materials completes the link between form and pattern. I look to industrial and architectural situations for formal references and use geometry as a language to communicate these observations. My labor is in the pursuit of an object that rests in balance, in beauty, and in nuance. I am interested in the intersection between the current pace of development in our designed world and traditional approaches to materials; clay is the medium I have chosen to navigate this crossroad.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I finished a two-year residency at Pottery Northwest in January of 2017. I wanted to stay in Seattle, hoping to continue the momentum I had built while in residence. My goal was to set up a home studio, but the housing culture in Seattle is fierce. I knew my partner(also an artist, and also looking for studio space) and I needed time to find the right place. Deb called me to offer me a small studio at Rat City, and with the understanding of what my goals were, she offered me a short term lease on a studio there. I worked at Rat City for 3 months absorbing all the great energy she is building around her community. It allowed me the time and space to continue developing my work in a new environment. I have since found a studio in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, where I maintain a full time studio practice. My time at Rat City Studios was wonderful; Deb’s dedication to her work and to her community has left a great impression on me.


Rat City Living - Angie Cunningham

Angie Cunningham


Website: www.cunninghamceramics.com

Angela Cunningham first took a ceramics class at the suggestion of a high school teacher during Saturday detention. After receiving her BA in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary, she decided to put her degree on a shelf and pursue her love for art and ceramics.  She continued her art education in a post-baccalaureate  program at U-Mass Dartmouth, and soon after received an MFA from Penn State University in 2004. She is currently a studio artist working at Mudflat Studio in the Boston area.

Artist Statement:
I make objects that beg to be touched. Through sensuous surfaces, intricate details, and provocative imagery, I strive to draw viewers near to explore. As much as I want to seduce, I equally want to push people away – to awe with the beauty of an object and perhaps repulse with the details.

The imagery in my pieces is drawn largely from forms in nature. I am inspired by the seductive textures, elegant lines, and fertile energy of flowers. Fruits and vegetables fascinate me with their tantalizing colors, dense seed structure, and grotesque beauty.  The human body enters here and there – the curve of a hip, the softness of belly.

More and more, my obsessive process feeds the content of my work. I have given myself over to investment. Every part is sensitively considered, well-loved; details are rendered with an attentiveness that borders on obsession. I strive to capture a sense of exquisiteness in its richest definition.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
Deb generously hosted me as Rat City Studio’s first visiting artist in spring 2017. Every day for two months, I witnessed an incredible sense of community and leadership. Deb heads the studio with the entrepreneurial drive of a businessperson, the care of a teacher, and the spirit of a pioneer woman. It was inspirational to observe and participate.

The time I spent at Rat Studio set the stage for my most productive studio time in years. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and the generosity of everyone connected to the studio! 

Rat City Living - Jonathan Steele

Jonathan Steele

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NFS j_steele representative image NFS.jpg

Website:  www.jonathansteeleceramics.com

I grew up in the greater Seattle Area. I took my first ceramics class in 2008 as an elective at Whitworth University where I earned a BA in Physics. After graduating, I knew I wanted to dive into ceramics and I took the roundabout path of going back to community college to earn my acceptance into a Post-Bacc program in Art at University of Puget Sound. I earned my MFA in Craft from Oregon College of Art and Craft in 2016 and am currently Resident Artist at Pleasant Hill Pottery in Pleasant Hill, OR. I have accepted an offer for spring 2018 to be Sabbatical Replacement Professor for Chad Gunderson at University of Puget Sound and I look forward to the opportunities that will unfold for me from there.

Artist Statement:
I choose to look at the world with the eye of an artist, finding profound and poetic content in the simplest facts of nature. My ceramic works are my engagement with material as I find beauty in observing and placing my hands into the phenomena of the earth. It is about curiosity and the joy of wonderment in discovery. Physical accumulations and changes over time are as much my media as clay is and woodfiring my functional vessels is an expression of that. I provoke sensitivity to a material dynamic that is ever present in the world and strive to create a moment of considerate pause for my viewer.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I began my involvement with Rat City Studios in 2014. I was living in Seattle the summer before starting my MFA and Deb invited me to trade studio space in exchange for helping out with the studio building efforts that were taking place that summer. I helped to build a fence, framed the studio door, and sprung the arch on the pizza oven. I consider Rat City Studios to be one of my first great inspirations as I’ve envisioned making a career as a ceramic artist and setting up a studio for myself in the future.