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A Conversation with Katie Fee

CG: Hi Katie, Let’s begin with how you were introduced to clay. What was your first experience with ceramics? What path did you follow from there to here? 

KF:  I started on the wheel in a high school ceramics course and was hooked.  It’s been a little over ten years since then, and the past 2-3 years as my career.  I went to the College of William & Mary with vague dreams of becoming an engineer or scientist. In school, the courses that held my interest and brought me joy were sculpture and design, so I gave my full attention to art. W&M is a public research university, so I was able to dig deep into my interests.  I pursued independent research and fellowships in ceramics, and got full support for a yearlong thesis fellowship. That programming let me wade knee deep in studio practice and professional development very early on.  I graduated with a B.A. in Art and a Minor in Geology.

Since then, I’ve been moving around the country for opportunities to become a better artist and build a professional practice. I earned a graduate certificate from U.Mass Dartmouth, and then worked at Peters Valley Craft School, and after that Mudflat Art Studios.

Most recently, I moved to Saint Pete in August 2019 to be an Artist-In-Residence at Morean Center for Clay.  Florida has been a trip so far, and my work is shifting in its foundations as I adjust to the sub-tropical environment and sunshine state culture.

CG: Your forms, handles and embellishments are reminiscent of rock faces, tectonic plates, even graffiti. What experiences or ideas have shaped your personal aesthetic?

KF: It’s a combination of interest in outdoors, geology, and reading too much sci-fi. American Romanticism and John Muir  are key parts to my personal ideology, and they inform my taste.  I’m stuck on the notion that intense geologic landscape can be inviting and nurturing.  One of the biggest ideas behind these forms is the conviction that the sensation I get from an experience outdoors can exist in a functional pot.  Monumental, intimate, and vulnerable- all at once.

When I studied geology in college, I loved learning to read moments of change in rock formations, and was fascinated deciphering the chain of processes that lead to an individual formation.  My taste in pottery is similar, in that I’m a sucker for really intriguing form.  In my own pots, that means preserving an especially energetic wire cut as a contour.  I like to create a composition of arches, ridges, planes, and marks that tell a story about process.

The torn handles and embellishments are as much a nod to botanical form as they are to geologic landscape.  I’ve been working on those since moving to Florida, and I think it’s because tropical plant life grew into my aesthetic.  I’m surrounded by rich bromeliads, ferns, and giant luscious leaves everywhere I go.  The main types of deciduous trees in my life are oak and crepe myrtle, which have gnarled, wiggling branches that are visually full of tension.

CG: You are currently firing wood and soda kilns with a variety of glazes and flashing slips. What effects are you chasing from these kilns?

KF: Partly it’s because I’m smitten with romance for the process of atmospheric firing.  As an undergrad I loved aiming and affecting the work with a soda spray wand.  When I got into wood firing through UMass and Chris Gustin, I loved practicing control over the atmosphere and watching wood ash build up on the surface of the pots.

Now I pursue atmospheric firing because I’m infatuated with variation and vibrancy of glazed surface as it’s enhanced with soda spray and wood ash.  I think about glaze over my pots like river rapids rushing over a rock bed.  There’s areas where the glaze runs and stretches thin, juxtaposed with areas where the form is entirely engulfed.  I think that range is visually interesting.

I operate both wood and soda because they reap different yet equally compelling results.  In my heavy reduction soda firings, the surface contrast is strongest; Ridgelines become sharp contrast points, and panels around the form range from over-saturated soda juice to quiet, pristine glaze.

Something I’ve really loved in recent wood firings is the subtle modulation of one glaze around each form.  Glaze recedes from ridgelines more gently, and the reaction between ash and glaze gives a much wider range of tones and effects than sharp, polarizing soda effects.

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