Our October Artist of the Month is ceramicist Sarah Jewell Olsen. New to the Contemporary Craft Store, her work combines functional forms with hand-drawn geometric shapes and inlays to create beautiful pieces that she says are “intended to overpower the mundane, mass-produced objects, and enrich experiences.”
In addition to being our Artist of the Month, Sarah is also this quarter’s featured artist for the Janet Krieger Artist Spotlight. Read on to learn more about Sarah and her creative practice.
I think the way to keep our arts education programs from being defunded is to make sure everyone understands how much richness and history the arts bring to our lives.
What is your artistic background?
I began my ceramics journey at 16, where I was lucky enough to take a ceramics class at my high school. It was the first thing I had tried that I was naturally good at, so my stubbornness led me to earn my Bachelors in Fine Arts in ceramics at the University of Alaska Anchorage. I spent time at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and then earned my Master’s in Fine Art from West Virginia University.
What are your favorite materials to work with/types of things to make?
The wheel is my most important tool, I throw porcelain and stoneware. My favorite form to make are small bowls and cups- intimate objects that fit in our hands and add to the experience of eating and drinking.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
I grew up in Alaska, and I absorbed the Alaska Native cultural art I saw in museums. As my education continued, I was drawn to abstract art and Egyptian architectural elements. Sprinkle in a little Scandinavian design and some Art Nouveau interior design, and I’ve come out the other side with a uniquely-me surface design on simple but clean forms.
How would you describe your work?
Elegant, durable, handmade pottery with unique hand-drawn geometric inlay.
What is your creative process like?
As a mom of a 2 year old, my creative process looks a little chaotic! I do my best to have a plan of what I’d like to make before my chance to make it. I throw as many pots as I can quickly, then take my bursts of free time to process through them. I hand-trim each pot, smooth the surface, and draw designs using a small blade.
What is the most rewarding thing about your practice?
I love to hear from folks who get to hold my work and love it.
And what challenges do you face as an artist?
There is never enough space! If only I had more shelves…
Outside of your practice, do you do any other creative activities/what are your interests?
I work part-time at a large adult beverage store at the tasting bar. I love flavors, I am a foodie, and I truly enjoy sharing the delicious flavors that drinks can bring to people’s meals and activities.
What role does the artist have in society?
I have been a teacher, and there is where I learned that my preferred role as an artist in our country is to make appreciators out of the public. I think the way to keep our arts education programs from being defunded is to make sure everyone understands how much richness and history the arts bring to our lives.
What is art/craft to you?
It’s the commitment to taking the time to learn a material, to practice a process and bring it to the world to enjoy.
Tell us about your favorite artist or artists that inspires you.
The women ceramic artists that came before me: Lucie Rie, Magdalene Odundo, Ruth Duckworth, Betty Woodward, Toshiko Takaezu. Their work is beautiful in many different ways, but their commitment to their craft in a male-centered world is inspiring.
All photos are courtesy of the artist.