"I want to make things that are designed well," Laura explained, gesturing to the pitchers, cups, and platters that are grouped throughout her studio. "I have this Mr. Coffee coffee-maker that pours just terribly," she laughed. "Every morning I use this coffee pot and I look at it. The angle of its spout is funny which leads to its fault. Where you put your spout and handle really affects the center of gravity."
Laura has been tweaking and perfecting her ceramic designs for years, through carefully documented trial and error, to create hand-crafted functional pottery. "I take notes and document my process when attempting a new project. You know, so I don't reinvent the wheel every time," she advised. "I always find it helpful down the road and kick myself when I forget. I also like to work in a series so I can immediately apply what I've learned to the next piece. At the end, I compare them and try to figure out which ones were successful and why."
The importance of functionality is always at the forefront of her mind. "I often get ideas from using everyday objects. If they function especially well or not at all, I find that I'm curious about their design and what aspect of the form, or how it was made, lent itself to the piece's success or failure."
Laura's studio is filled with glossy, richly-colored ceramic pieces adorned with thoughtful texture and mark-making. "I find I'm really inspired by patterns and texture. My inspiration comes from nature, fabric patterns, antiques, found objects, and commercial designs," explained Laura as she ran her fingertip over the intriguing texture of a luscious powder blue platter.
"I'm really drawn to the Impressionists and the influence of emotion and color in artwork." Laura explained how she layers and sequences her glazes to create the patterns, markings, and hues she envisions for each piece. As she delved into the process of creating one piece of pottery, it became evident just how many factors influence the final form: having a gas or electric kiln, the temperature clay at which is fired, the viscosity of the glaze, the thickness of the clay, and the amount of oxygen introduced while firing are among the many facets of the ceramic process. "There's a serendipity of chemistry in the kiln that you just can't foresee," Laura mused.
Laura's artistic path began to take shape when her mom bought her a book of simple projects and a big bag of clay around age nine. Just like any beginner in ceramics, she started making coil pots. "Of course, they all turned out terribly," Laura chuckled, "but I still loved it." She continued to take art classes throughout childhood and through high school, then went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in ceramics from Illinois Wesleyan University. Laura learned to make clay and glazes from raw materials and how to fire kilns during her time as a teaching assistant for the ceramics department, giving her extra insight into the technical processes of the ceramic arts. Her final year at IWU included the John Wesley Powell Research Conference where she was instructed on how to develop her own projects and present them in a public forum, a useful skill for anyone earning a degree in an artistic field. Laura graduated magna cum laude in 2005, returned to her hometown of O'Fallon, IL, and began her search for studio space.
Her search led her to the Foundry Art Centre as an apprentice to previous FAC Studio Artists, potters Tim & Christy Sawyer, in Studios 1-4. "That time really helped me learn more about what it takes to be a full-time potter," said Laura, who has worked as a waitress and bartender to support her pottery business, up until about a year ago when New Spin On Tradition became her full-time job.
Studio 21 has been home to her beautiful pottery for about five years. "I feel very lucky to have a studio here. As a creative person, how can you be surrounded by other artists and not want to make things yourself? Plus, if you're stuck or have a problem, you have this great thinktank for solutions. There are so many different mediums represented through our studio artists," she expressed. "They're all going to approach a problem in a different way. I feel very fortunate to be at the Foundry."
"Also, the space is really beautiful: lots of natural light and right on the river," she continued. "If I'm feeling tired or need inspiration, I can take a walk on the Katy Trail."
Laura is currently working on a spring-inspired series of flower bricks. Flower bricks emerged in the 18th century and originated from either English or Dutch potters. The structure and lattice-work top of the flower brick allows for easy and attractive arrangements of blooms that have less sturdy stems, such as tulips. Laura's flower bricks involve two clay slabs, a bottomless thrown form, attached feet, a hand-carved top and elegant patterning.
Apart from flower bricks, other forms sit drying on her work table: berry bowls and the bodies of pitchers await their next step in Laura's process. Commissioned pieces and work for the front entrance to coincide with the next FAC exhibition, Form and Function, are next on the agenda after Laura participates in the Art Fair at Queeny Park this weekend, April 1-3, 2016. Laura aims to show her work at 1-2 art fairs each month and looks forward to the people she meets and saying goodbye to her ceramic pieces. "Most of the things I make find a home within a year," she said. The pieces peering out her studio windows do often change and visitors get to see a wide variety of her work every time they go upstairs.
For the past ten years, Laura has been working toward being a full-time studio artist and has achieved her goal. With a thriving business and a presence on the local and national art scene, she's learned that success is not instant but it's definitely worth the wait. "Get as much education as you can," she suggested, "whether from formal or informal sources, like apprenticeships, degree programs, books, workshops, even Youtube videos from artists you respect. It all has some merit. Any time I attend a workshop or other educational opportunity, I feel like the work pushes forward. I always come away with some new insight or technique."
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.