Meet Jen Allen!

Jen's Background

Jen received a BFA from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2002 and an MFA from Indiana University in 2006.  She has participated in residencies at the School for American Crafts, RIT (2002-2003), the Archie Bray Foundation (Summer 2003, 2015, 2017 and full term 2006-2008), the McNamara Foundation (Summer 2008), Red Lodge Clay Center (Summer 2012),  and Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts (July 2016).

Jen and her husband Shoji just purchased a new home in Morgantown, WV. It has two outbuildings, one of which will be her new studio.

You can also see more of her work at

Who are your role models/mentors?

Work of some of Jen's mentors during her time at UAA (1995-2002). Pictured clockwise from top left: Martim Tagseth, Steve Godfrey, Pamela Pemberton Price, Brad Schweiger, Peter Brondz, Tom Rohr, Kris Bliss.

Work of some of Jen's mentors during her time at UAA (1995-2002). Pictured clockwise from top left: Martim Tagseth, Steve Godfrey, Pamela Pemberton Price, Brad Schweiger, Peter Brondz, Tom Rohr, Kris Bliss.

I have so many role models/mentors... many of which are from my days as an undergraduate student in Anchorage, AK. My first ceramic teacher, Martin Tagseth, was the reason I changed my major. Lisa Conway, Pamela Pemberton, Steve Godfrey and Robert Banker were all faculty during my time at UAA. The majority of my classes were with Steve Godfrey. He has always been someone I've looked up to and is one of my most favorite potters. Kris Bliss, a production potter in Anchorage, had a huge impact on my career trajectory. I worked as her studio assistant for four years. She taught me about all things clay.

Peter Brondz, another well- known studio potter in Bird Creek, AK, also made a major impression. His studio/home set-up was something I always admired. He was so generous with the UAA students and would let us fire his bourry-box wood kiln and his salt kiln. Tom Rohr and Brad Schweiger each taught summer classes at UAA while I was there. Both had a lasting impact on my work and career. Between undergraduate school in AK and grad school in Indiana, I worked with many talented artists... each of which helped shape the potter I am today. Julia Galloway, Rick Hirsh and Sinisa Kukec were all pivital to my growth as a young artist who had just left home for the first time. My grad faculty, Tim Mather, Christyl Boger, Malcolm Mobutu Smith and John Goodheart gave me the kick in the ass I needed in grad school. I also need to acknowledge Josh DeWeese and Steve Lee to help me transition back into real life following academia. Currently, I am thankful for my colleagues, peers and students for challenging me and for helping me to stay creative in my constant search to find the better pot.

Jen's early work, 2000- 2001.

Jen's early work, 2000- 2001.

When did you have your first experience with clay?

My first experience with clay came my sophomore year in undergraduate school. I was an elementray ed major but was taking a painting class in the art building. After snooping on the hand-building class down the hall, I decided that I needed to sign up for it the following semester. It just took that one hand-building class to hook me. I earned my BFA in ceramics 5.5 years later.  

Why do you keep making artwork?

I NEED to be creative. I NEED to make. It helps ease my mind and focus my energy. It is rewarding and challenging and frustrating at times. It is the only time I am completely comfortable in my own skin. There is a great video that KQED released about Viola Frey and her dedication to clay. Even following a series of life-altering strokes, she never gave up on her passion. Instead, she found ways to keep stay creative and engaged with her craft. Retirement was never an option for Viola. She is such an inspiration. I too can’t imagine a life without making...

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

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

Hearth and Altar.jpg

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? 


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.