A Conversation Between Deb Schwartzkopf & Shawn Spangler

Sugar Bowl by Steve Godfrey

Sugar Bowl by Steve Godfrey

 

SS:  Where did you first study ceramics? How did that influence you and prompt you to continue working in clay?
DS:
I first studied ceramics at Highline Community College in Seattle, WA.  I took classes as a high school student through a running start program available in the state. I enjoyed it, but it did not stand out until I took classes again as a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage with Steve Godfrey, Pam Pemberton, and Robert Banker.  In this community I found a place to belong and was challenged by each of my teachers in a way I found meaningful. I also worked for two studio potters in the area.  Both my time assisting potters and academic experience were formative and helped me find my path as a potter.

In Alaska, working with Peter Brondz 

In Alaska, working with Peter Brondz 

SS:  Looking back in your career as a ceramic artist, could you talk about one decision you made that influenced where you are now as an artist.
 

DS:  Moving to Alaska was one of the most formative decisions I have made.  I would say the second most important was buying a house.  Moving to Alaska was my effort to find a path away from what I knew, without knowing exactly what I was seeking to change. I find it much easier to change when I have a specific goal. In the case of this move, I was seeking space, a chance to grow in a new environment, and the mountains. I was seeking a place where priorities where different and more clear.  I found this to be made true by the intense landscape and climate.  I felt small in the vastness of place.  I felt a different focus come into being as winter demanded indoor time and summer pushed me into the garden or onto a trail.  I felt a reset happening that was making me more aware of my surroundings.  I also felt lonely.  Reaching out to share experience in a new place made me more aware of how I interacted with people and how much I needed companionship. Moving to Alaska pushed me way out of my comfort zone and helped me see myself. I have moved many times since then. Each time I am reminded of these lessons and they are added to with new experiences.

Buying a house is one of the most stressful and rewarding things I have ever done. Mortgage brokers were not happy to hear I make pottery for a living.  They are even less happy where I proved my income with a huge pile of gallery and workshop paystubs from all over the country with incredibly varying amounts and frequency.  I am lucky I my mother co-signed with me and that close friends loaned me half the down payment. The hardest thing about having a house now is figuring out which project is most important.  I would so much rather buy another fruit tree than fix the gutters.  I would SO much rather add studio windows rather than fixing electrical issues no one else will ever notice.  BUT, there is a more appropriate order and I am finding my way.  I find being able to invest in a place completely worth the stress of being in debt with a mortgage.  Building shelving that is both beautiful and works well is something I would not have done if I knew I had to move again.  Now I have space to offer assistants.  Now I can wire and plumb for permitted kilns.  Now people seek out my place to visit and buy pottery.  Now I can plant asparagus and fruit trees- things that take many years to mature. These are amazing, hard-won benefits. I hold at bay thoughts about how many cups it takes to pay the mortgage.  I focus on the new lessons I am learning about digging in and staying put.  I am growing from a new chapter in my life.

Deb Schwartzkopf trying out her new coffee pour over form on top of a Shawn Spangler cup.

Deb Schwartzkopf trying out her new coffee pour over form on top of a Shawn Spangler cup.

SS:  How often do you work towards new and different designs in your work? 
DS: 
In my studio practice I have forms that are well refined and worked out.  These are more reliable.  I need these to pay the mortgage.  I enjoy making them, but I also want to explore and grow.  Mixed into my making cycle is time to discover new forms and test for glazes.  This is supported by my way of using bisque molds.  The shapes of them are present in my studio.  I can glance over to the wall of molds and imagine them into new combinations.  Then I can try it out.  Or at times I will have left over segments from current projects.  Pieces these together into an unknown shape is a fun game.

SS:  What does you current studio schedule look like?  
DS: 
My life is full and I like it that way.  I take breaks in the garden and tending my chickens and bees.  I love to cook.  Spending time with friends and family is important to me. I usually rise around 7:30, have a cup of coffee and have a bite to eat with Joe before he heads off to his own studio or day-job.  A few moments to space out and watch the chickens or bees brings me into studio time.  Twice a week I work with studio assistants on various projects around the studio.  Most days, I spend the better part of the day working on some aspect of the studio, be it web design, packing and shipping, event planning, or making work. We write about studio happenings on the Rat City Studios Blog.  Check it out! I am now teaching classes out of my studio and I also teach workshops nationally.  A bit over half of my income is from making pots and selling them through galleries, craft fairs and online via the Objective Clay Website and my personal website.  The other half is a mix of teaching workshops, community classes at craft centers locally, teaching classes from my studio, writing articles, & DVD royalties. It is a patch-work quilt life. I am excited to have a few short-term residencies coming up in 2018-2019! Noticing the larger cycles and the freedom within them gives me a lot of variation in my days.

Deb's Garden

Deb's Garden

Chickens in her yard

Chickens in her yard

Jams made from the berries in her yard

Jams made from the berries in her yard