I am a firm believer that life is a continuum of experiences and moments that connect people in a way that will ultimately be for the greater good. About two weeks ago, I crossed paths with the beautiful and talented Sarah Kersten. Sarah is a ceramic artist that specializes in pottery. I came to know of Sarah by browsing Kickstarter on a hunt for inspiration for my own Kickstarter video. Sarah's story felt so genuine, that I felt compelled to support her campaign. I recently had an opportunity to meet with Sarah over tea at the Artis Cafe in Berkeley and learn more about her journey as an artist and her approach to creating timeless and covetable pieces. One of the most interesting perspectives Sarah shared was that what she values most about her craft, is its function and that for her, being recognized as a fine artist pales in comparison to the lifelong memories of family and communion that are quietly transcribed into her vessels.
See more of Sarah's story in our interview and be sure to visit her Kick Starter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1869045264/sarah-kersten-handmade-studio). It's pretty amazing what people are doing to make a life out of what they love. Let's show support! Who knows who you will meet along the way.
Source: Sarah Kersten and Art Is Luv
Art Is Luv: Where do you call home and what makes home feel like home?
Sarah Kersten: At the moment, home is where I live in North Oakland/Emeryville. I live in a beautiful, historic home, and my housemates are the greatest. It feels like home because it's my most familiar place; it's the longest I've lived anywhere aside from my parent's house.
That being said, I spend a lot of time feeling homesick for Washington State and New York State. I was born in New York, and we moved to Washington when I was twelve.
Art Is Luv: When did you begin practicing ceramic arts? Were you introduced to the art form or were you the creative kid that somehow knew how to make more out of "Play Doh" than just a cookie?
Sarah Kersten: I started taking ceramics classes when I was thirteen at a pottery school in Seattle's Pioneer Square District. It was a way to stay busy in the summer. I was definitely obsessed with it in retrospect; from the moment I started, I found a way to always keep working in clay. That being said, I never considered "being an artist" as a career path until I was 22.
As a child I definitely liked to hang out in the sand box and play with play dough, but honestly, no one ever said I had artistic talent. I also remember that pottery was definitely not a hip form of art when I was in high school; it's had some kind of a renaissance recently, and all of the sudden it's cool.
Art Is Luv: I have always felt a personal connection with handmade items. One of my earliest memories of this was actually in a ceramics class I took during a summer day camp when I was 11-years old. I always felt especially proud of and enamored by my creations, even when it wasn’t always clear what they actually were. Has that been your experience and why do you think working with clay evokes such a feeling?
Sarah Kersten: I think it's pretty amazing to manipulate tangible, earth based elements, and to watch them go through a transformation into something that is different, but permanent and solid. It's very grounding. That's probably why people experience a lot of wonder when they look at their finished pieces. It marks the passage of time, and it shows that transformation is real. That's cool.
Art Is Luv: I think there was a period of time, especially in the 80s and 90s, that people thought of a piece of pottery as only a decorative item, but I have noticed a shift within the last 5 - 10 years that seems to inspire collectors to rediscover the utilitarian value of pottery. Has that also been your observation and is this a movement that spans generations (e.g. Has mom also decided to move the good dishes out of the china cabinet?)?
Sarah Kersten: This is the story as I know it, but I'm not a historian. The market for handmade pottery started to slow down in the 80s and 90s, as mass produced inexpensive modern dishes became abundantly available. Tastes and aesthetics changed during that time too, and many people started to prefer the clean look of manufactured work.
Today, there is obviously a revival in interest in all things handmade and locally made. Handmade dishes can be used multiple times a day, and I think that feels really good for people. It gives them a tactile connection to a meaningful object, and it ties into food consciousness as well.
As for my mother, she was never particularly interested in pottery, but she understands it more now. She uses work i've given to her often. Using my work gives my parents a connection with me even though I'm far away, and I'm grateful that my craft can do that.
Art Is Luv: Honestly, I've never thought to ferment anything but I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I would entertain the idea of eating all gut healthy foods just so that I can use one of your beautiful fermenting jars. If someone asked you to recommend a piece of pottery to start a collection or include in an everyday arsenal, what would you tell them?
Sarah Kersten: Bowls and mugs are nice because they're useful every day. An assortment of different vases for different flowers is nice too.
Art Is Luv: Who are some of your favorite ceramic artists?
Sarah Kersten: Recently I've been admiring Erin McGuinnes's work most often. She happens to work in the building where my new studio is located.
Historically, Lucie Rie.
Art Is Luv: As I am sure you are aware, California has been home to many of the first pioneers of ceramic arts, some of which have gained both national and international notoriety. However, as a whole, do you feel like ceramic art is as widely recognized in the fine arts world as other visual arts forms? If not, what do you think is the missing link?
Sarah Kersten: First off, I'm not particularly hip to the fine art side of ceramics. From what I have observed, no, it isn't as widely recognized as other fine art mediums, but that isn't universal. Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds comes to my mind. I don't think there is an inherent bias against the medium.
Art Is Luv: What's next for you and where can we see more of your work?
Sarah Kersten: The best place to find my work right now is in my Kickstarter campaign, which runs through October 17th. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1869045264/sarah-kersten-handmade-studio). After that campaign finishes, we're going to quickly get to work assembling the studio. I'm planning to be at West Coast Craft and at the Remodelista Holiday Market this year, both in December.
As for my work, I'm planning to continue making functional work, more fermentation jars, and hopefully some smaller fun stuff. I would love to start working on bigger pieces more often.
Art Is Luv: Finally, what's for breakfast?
Sarah Kersten: I eat a lot of frittatas with eggs and leftover roasted veggies that might be in my fridge on any given morning. In a similar theme, this summer I found a recipe for baked eggs over a bed of roasted cherry tomatoes. I've been pretty into that.