Meet Emily Schroeder Willis!

Emily's Background

Emily received her MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2006 and her BFA in ceramics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2000. She was awarded the Jerome Fellowship from the Northern Clay Center and the Sage Scholarship from the Archie Bray Foundation. She was an artist-in-residence at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana, the Zentrum für Keramik in Berlin, Germany, the Alberta College of Art and Design in Canada and Watershed Center for the Ceramics Arts in Maine.  In 2012, she was a presenter at Arrowmont’s Utilitarian Clay Conference where Objective Clay was formed.  Currently, she lives in Chicago and is a Lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Her studio is located in the Ravenswood neighborhood in Chicago. 

You can also see more of her work at www.emilyschroeder.com

Are there any books you are looking at lately you want to share?

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Oh YES!  I have come across some real gems lately!  The book A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor is simply fascinating.  It really turns you on your head for what we (the west) have deemed worthy of value.  And looking at all these objects from around the world but with a different lens has been very eye opening.
Also the book Vitamin C: Clay+Ceramic in Contemporary Art by Phaidon is a great book to learn about a TON of ceramic artists I have not heard about who are making really interesting work.  It is a little western influence heavy, but I am still excited to dig into those artists and learn more about them.

And lastly two books I picked up recently from the Chicago Art Institute Book Store that are incredible are For Hearth and Altar: African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl Collection by Kathleen Bickford Berzock and For Kith and Kin by Judith A. Barter and Monica Obniski.  The Hearth and Altar book is of interest to me because I feel like in all my studies of ceramics, I have not learned or read much about African Ceramics and this book has a lot of great history and information on historical African ceramics.  The Kith and Kin book also looks at some great American Folk Art which is often left out of Art History books as well.

What are you listening to in your studio these days? 

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Well, I guess I must confess that I am a Friend of the Pod and that Pundit is an angel.  And if you know what those things mean....well, then you listen too. Truly, I listen to Pod Save America & Lovett or Leave it more often than I should (only because I get really feisty after listening to them).  But I try and temper that by listening to a lot more classical/mellow music these days. Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, Sylvan Esso, Phox, Bon Iver, Julianna Barwick, Ólafur Arnalds are on a constant rotation in my studio.  But if I had to pick only one, Sufjan would be on non-stop.  He's just amazing and his latest collaboration with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAllister, Planetarium is absolutely MAGICAL!  I think I have listened to that full album at least 100 times this summer.

What do you do to stay motivated in the studio?

Honestly, getting to be in the studio these days is such a treat!  It's still is hard to get in there in the capacity I want because of being a mom of a three year old.  Recently I started a practice of making 5 drawings in my studio each time I am there.  It helps me think differently about my work.  Sometimes I keep the drawings, sometimes I throw all of them away.  It just helps me to let things go and not be so entrenched in one way of working/thinking. 

Who are your role models/mentors?

 William J. O'Brien, Cecily

William J. O'Brien, Cecily

At the moment, I feel really, really lucky.  I teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with some really incredible artists and several have become huge role models to me.  Bill O'Brien who teaches there is just absolutely the most hilarious, kind and incredible artist.  I love the way he works so fluidly between so many different mediums (printmaking, ceramics, metals, drawing, textiles....) and he has a really unique way of dealing with each material. He is so earnest and raw in his work it is really inspiring for approaching my own work in a more honest manner.  His Instagram feed is a total riot.  If you don't follow him, you should.  It will brighten your day!

Marie Hermann is another professor at the Art Institute.  I love her innovation with looking at objects: how we collect them, how we integrate them, how we move them and how we move around them.  As a potter, I can sometimes get bored with looking at "pots", so I love finding people who use them in a more nuanced way.  And like Bill, Marie is an absolute gem of a human being.  Like I said earlier, I feel really lucky to be teaching at a school with amazing artists who are also such brilliant people.

Meet Deb Schwartzkopf!

Deb's Background

Deb was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and earned a BA at the University of Alaska. She worked for studio potters in the Anchorage area, which gave her a strong foundation to spring from. Deb focused on glazes for a year of independent study at San Diego State University; after which she completed a Masters of Fine Arts at Penn State. She went on to teach at institutions such as: Ohio University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, University of Washington, and University of Georgia’s study abroad program in Cortona. Deb has worked nationally and internationally at places such as the Archie Bray Foundation(MT), Mudflat Studios(MA), The Clay Studio(PA), Pottery Northwest(WA), Watershed(ME), Sanbao in Jingdezhen, China, and the Residency for Ceramics-Berlin, Germany. Since 2002, Deb has taught over eighty workshops and exhibited work locally and abroad. She moved back to Seattle in 2009 and bought a house/studio in 2013. Since then Deb has created a beautiful, functional, and communal pottery studio - Rat City Studios. Deb, the studio assistants, studio members who rent space, and people participating in classes all work in clay here. Together, they keep the wheels turning!

 Deb's Maternal Grandparents

Deb's Maternal Grandparents

 Deb and Joe hiking

Deb and Joe hiking

Who are your role models/mentors?

Oh have so many!
One who I have not written about is my Oma - my mother’s mother, Ella, who emigrated from Romania with two tiny children and her husband. At so many stages in her life she redefined her goals and dreamed big in the face of adversity.  Before her journey to the US she worked and lived out of her family home starting at 13 years old. As a refugee she sought asylum throughout Eastern Europe during WWII.  She moved with her family to America while not being able to speak English. While working several jobs, she tended my mom and aunties while her husband recovered from a nearly lethal farm. Proudly, she repaid all her debts and became self sufficient.  She raised delicious veggies and red roses in the same dark earth.  Her kitchen always smelled of coffee and baked goods. She white washed the house and flipped mattresses in her 60’s.  She survived breast cancer.  She stuck by my grandpa through many ups and downs and created a home we all wanted to be in.  She learned how to write by tracing my mother’s letters in her 70’s. While her own second battle with cancer was taking her, she crocheted shawls for cancer patients. She was gruff and relentless, but deep hearted and giving. She loved by doing and making for her family and friends. If I can hold even a small candle to her bright flame, I will consider myself lucky.

 Art to Table CSA at Babirusa  https://babirusaseattle.com/

Art to Table CSA at Babirusa https://babirusaseattle.com/

Why do you keep making artwork?

It still challenges me. I am still growing and getting better at making what I hope to make.
All my friends do it (kind of kidding here, but the community of clayers is a wonderful thing).
I have most of my eggs in this basket now, especially after working so hard to establish my studio.
This career keeps offering me hurdles I want to learn to jump over.

 

What are some of the biggest hurdles you have faced with being an artist?

My pottery CRACKING from all the altering and combining of pieces I do with porcelain.
Figuring out where to plant myself and build a studio.
Establishing a studio (buying a house).
Fostering a significant lasting relationship while trying to build a career.
Learning how to listen in a way that create progress.
Trying to change myself and learn from my mistakes.

 Deb's honeybees   

Deb's honeybees

 

What do you do to stay motivated in the studio?

There are a lot of big dreams to bring into being.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed with goals feeling out of my reach.  If I do not know what step to take next, or it is too big of a step, I start feeling bogged down and unmotivated.  It helps if I can break down each project into tiny steps I can accomplish in a minute, an hour or a day. I do this by making a lot of lists.  If one step in the list is actually two actions, I relist it as two list items.  I do this until each step or item listed is truly only one action item that can be done in one step.  By the time they get this broken down, they are often simple steps. There is a little handout on my website for helping this process along…  https://ratcitystudios.com/handouts

In Search of Purity (ongoing saga)

by Bryan Hopkins

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It not look like much, but the object pictured above might change your life. It is a neodymium bar magnet made by Eriez Magnetics (www.eriez.com). 

Those of you who know me might know I go on rants about porcelain. “it’s not white enough, not plastic enough”, and the worst offense: “it has iron spots”.

I fucking hate iron spots, or whatever they are. Spots, specks, whatever. They are flaws that make a piece a second quality piece, and I don’t sell seconds so they are given away or crushed in to bits, wasting valuable studio time, not to mention money.

Out of necessity I have been making my own porcelain for maybe 5 years now. (No company wants to deal with my insistence on a lack of spots in the fired product.) And for years I have dealt with spots and specks ruining maybe 10% of my production. Not so bad, you might say, but when a great piece (my standards) is destroyed due to spots I get pissy.

Someone told me once about bar magnets being used to extract very fine particulate from dry clay materials. Particulate so fine it passes through a 60 mesh screen, and not super magnetic particulate (like steel filings), but attracted to a magnet none the less. So  for whatever reason I remembered this conversation last April and started looking around. I contacted Eriez and eventually got a 6” x 6” neodymium bar magnet from them.

It.Is.Fucking.Amazing.

I pass by the magnet all dry material and the amount of stuff it extracts (attracts) is amazing. Can I also add this comment about my raw materials: the amount of impurity I am able to easily extract is quite disappointing based on how much I pay for those materials. I have found almost all the magnetic impurity to be found in silica, but feldspars are also a culprit.

Now you might say this is excessive: you don’t need a magnet- you like specks! Well, I don’t find anything attractive or romantic or wabi-sabi about specks, and my career is partly based on my neurotic behavior about purity of porcelain.

Having this magnet has made my clay cleaner and whiter, and allows me to be more confident that pieces I spend hours and hours on will not go to waste due to some spots.

Below are images of my set up and how I use the magnet.

Thanks for looking!

Bryan Hopkins

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 Overhead view of my “hopper”. Plywood coated with corrugated PVC. On the right is a side view of the hopper on a keg bucket. Materials are poured in to the hopper and all passes by the bar magnet.

Overhead view of my “hopper”. Plywood coated with corrugated PVC. On the right is a side view of the hopper on a keg bucket. Materials are poured in to the hopper and all passes by the bar magnet.

 After rinsing the magnet, this is what it looks like. And that is after just 100 lbs of dry material!

After rinsing the magnet, this is what it looks like. And that is after just 100 lbs of dry material!

 A close up of the accumulation on one single bar. Maybe 500 potential specks?

A close up of the accumulation on one single bar. Maybe 500 potential specks?

 The contaminants are easily picked off with a piece of moist porcelain.

The contaminants are easily picked off with a piece of moist porcelain.

 Here is what those look like after going through a reduction firing, cone 11. Yuck.

Here is what those look like after going through a reduction firing, cone 11. Yuck.