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A Conversation with Renee LoPresti

CG: Your work has always been rich with imagery. This series is a little different in that some pots are void of imagery… more design and pattern oriented. Other works are loaded with imagery. Could you speak to winnowing and exaggerating imagery on your pots?

RL: For as long as I can remember, I have loved colorful patterns and graphic imagery. I spent my adolescence drawing, painting, cross-stitching and crocheting.  Specific imagery became prevalent on my pots a few years ago. I was spending a lot of time creating hand cut stencils of interlocking patterns and trying to figure out how they could wrap around a thrown pot [instead of strictly on rolled slab work]. Over time and through lots of trial and error, I realized that instead of having one all-over repeating pattern I could use multiple layers, colors and patterns to wrap continuously around a thrown pot.

Within these layered patterns, I started using images of llamas ‘living’ within empty spaces of the surface composition. Stories quickly began to develop, and the llamas were not only interacting with their surroundings but also with one another on each pot. I slowly built a visual library of images that were meaningful to me, and the narratives became increasingly more complex.

When I start decorating a pot, I like to think of different scenarios in which my images can be arranged and ask myself “what are some of the specific stories or messages here?”. I always find personal connection and meaning in these stories, while allowing space for others to find their own interpretations.

My pottery has become a sum of many parts; compositional design, multiple colors, matte surfaces next to glossy surfaces, luster, repeating patterns and imagery. Removing one of the most recognized elements of my pots [imagery], allowed me to shift focus onto the other components of my designs and how they relate to the form. New patterns and design elements have emerged, such as repeating x’s and arching gold lines. Removing imagery has brought the form back into the forefront, with surface decoration playing a ‘supportive role’.

CG: Underneath all of this wonderful surface work there are strong forms. Clearly there are decisions being made about what to make and what not to. Why are these particular forms intriguing to you? What keeps you returning to them?

RL: I definitely fall into the old adage that ‘form follows function’.  Function not only being the use for which a specific pot is intended, but also how it is used in my life and what functions I want  to improve upon. As a ceramics collector, I am always reaching for handmade coffee mugs and tumblers to fill with coffee or a cold beverage as I run out the door on the way to my studio each morning. A long, bumpy, gravel driveway means carefully holding a mug in one hand while steering with the other. I quickly realized I should consider my own work, and started making wide bottom mugs (dashboard friendly with a low center of gravity) and cup holder compatible tumblers.

During and after college, I  spent a handful of years working in the  restaurant industry. I quickly formed opinions of the mass produced ceramic service ware. Plates that were too heavy and painful to carry when full of food, mugs that were too thin and burned your  fingers when filled with piping hot beverages. I noticed which shapes were easy to walk with and contained liquids well (and those that didn’t).

Working in restaurants inevitably made me have a more discerning palate, and I became very interested in cooking complex meals at home. Olive oil is a staple item kept in a cruet close to the stove top alongside pink himalayan sea salt in a small canister where they can be quickly poured or pinched.  I love lunch plates because they naturally create the perfect portion size. I make bowls that are wide enough to eat a variety of foods from, with a turned foot that is wide and deep enough to grasp with your palm for those informal nights eating on the couch. Function is always a consideration for me, and I while my own needs and experiences shape my decisions  on what forms to make, I am always keeping in mind what the needs of others are and trying to find a happy balance.

CG: In some of your recent social media posts you have spoken about the importance of self reflection. How did the cat come to represent this idea and what does it mean to you?

RL: The cat became a recurring character in the stories once I had established a majority of my imagery was of or related to the domestic space. Before introducing the cats, the imagery consisted of inanimate objects such as chairs, ladders, mirrors, and paper airplanes playing out different scenarios. First I introduced a single cat witnessing the scene, solely as an observer. I relate it to the saying of “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”. The cat as a living creature observing its surroundings validates and actualizes the events.

This spring, I had the joy of watching four kittens grow and investigate everything in their reach inside the house. They were a

wonderful combination of contrasting characteristics: inquisitive, bold, meek, sneaky, and devious. They conquered every armchair, climbed to the tops of curtains, and hid in the most obscure places. Imagery of cats on top of chairs, pawing at fallen paper airplanes and looking at themselves in the mirror was not only a direct representation of my surroundings but also tells a more complex narrative that metaphorically relates to human experiences.

I intend for the cats looking at themselves in the mirror to remind us of the importance of self reflection. An internal process vital to the human condition, profound and impactful in order for personal growth to occur. With our ever increasingly busy lives, it is easy to forget the importance of stepping back and taking the time to self assess.

CG: Could you offer any insights into the other imagery you are using, e.g., paper airplanes, chairs, mirrors, and plants?

RL: The chairs serve as a way to indirectly reference the human figure; comprised of  arms, legs, a back and seat. Whereas the paper airplanes are more ambiguous; flying upward, crashing downward, piled on top of one another, or locked inside a bird cage. Dashed lines mark where they have been or where they are heading. They often conjure feelings of nostalgia at first glance, but I see them in a myriad of ways: representing aspirations,  failures, signifiers of freedom, messages sent, received or missed.

Personal growth and communication are themes that are represented not only by mirrors and paper airplanes but also by potted plants and outdoor plants. A potted plant grows well, but eventually becomes stifled and self destructive, whereas a plant growing outside has the ability to dig its roots  deeper to access more water and nutrients. Branching upward, even the outdoor plants are limited in their growth. Often, there will be an airplane soaring above the plants, unlimited in the heights that it can reach even though it is fragile and rootless. This is just a small sample of the metaphors I intend to portray with imagery, and every piece is a unique exploration of these narratives.

To view pots from Renee’s show click HERE.


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A Conversation with Eric Heerspink

EB: Who introduced you to clay- and what were your early pots like?

Heerspink: Growing up I was privileged to attend a school were the arts were regularly taught. Due to this, I was introduced to clay at a fairly early age. However, it wasn’t until my junior year of undergrad that I was completely captivated by this versatile medium. In 2005 I enrolled in my first college level ceramics class. Through the instruction of Anna Greidanus, I quickly realized that I had found my passion. My early pots were thickly thrown, poorly trimmed, lopsided versions of what loosely resembled mugs. As my skills developed so did the work. Looking back at my earlier work I have noticed common elements that persistently continue to show up. These early pots were electric fired porcelain with overlapping thicknesses of different colored brushed lines, often in a repeating pattern. The repetition of shapes and the thin controlled line continue to interest me and play an important role in my current work.

EB: Our mutual friend, Mark Arnold, introduced me to your work a couple of years ago. He described it like- What if there was handmade pottery in Star Wars? I found the question and concept absolutely fascinating. So what’s with the obsession? Obviously you’re not alone, but what was it that captivated you?

Heerspink: I was 12 the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope. With the first notes of the opening title and the iconic scrolling text I was interested, as soon as those first ships flew overhead, firing green and red laser bolts I was hopelessly hooked. As I have aged the reasons I like these films have perhaps not changed, but deepened. As a 12-year- old boy, I was fascinated by the technology of space ships and light sabers and of course the action of the films. (I mean what 12-year- old wouldn’t want a light saber.) Now, as a 33-year- old “man”, there is an element of nostalgia that is comforting. These movies have become really good friends; friends you know everything about and can finish their sentences. But more than that, I find myself increasingly interested in the design elements of the film; set, costume, and props. This interest in the design (more than the characters or story) is what influences my work.

EB: When did your love of Star Wars and ceramics finally merge?

Heerspink: It was Joe Page, my graduate instructor, who first asked me why I was not letting my work be influenced by such an obvious obsession. In graduate school I would often be found working in the studio with the original Star Wars trilogy playing on my computer. The simple answer to Joe’s question was that I didn’t think it would be appropriate for the work to be influenced by something so pop culture and “nerdy”. Through the prodding and guidance of Joe, my work took a complete 180 degree turn during my last semester. Instead of making the functional work I had been doing my entire time in grad school, I started to explore sculptures that were influence by the mechanical workings of the space ships in Star Wars. Following graduation, while I still have an interest in sculpture, my work turned back to functional ceramics, but the influence of these films has remained.

EB: You could have approached this body of work from so many angles- imagery, character’s faces, etc. It seems like you’ve put yourself into the shoes of the intergalactic potter. How did you arrive at this point of view?

Heerspink: Like most artists, my work has evolved over time. Graduate school was a period of intense change that often seemed disjointed at the time. Looking back at the work, I can now see more clearly connections between various bodies. Entering college, I had intended to become an engineer. I was interested in engineering because of my fascination with machinery and drawing. In particular it was the crisp precise lines of mechanical drawing that drew me in. I lasted one semester before I realized that I wasn’t meant to be an engineer. However, I took that interest in line with me. It emerged in my early pots as a decorative element both brushed and carved. Later in graduate school, this fascination manifested itself as mechanical drawings that were screen printed onto the forms. Crisp precise lines continue to play a prominent role in my current work. When I began my investigations into this series I knew I wanted to avoid imagery that overtly screamed Star Wars. This was ultimately due to the fact that the work is about more than just those films. I am just as interested in how the formal elements of shape, color and line interact. Repetition and pattern as well as symmetry and asymmetry are explored within the work. The pots are just as much about these formal concerns as they are about Star Wars. I do enjoy the subtle references within the work to the films. One of my favorite moments to witness is when someone is looking at my work, turning the piece over in their hands, then turns to the person they are with and says, “I think this is from Star Wars”.


Check out Heerspink’s solo show HERE.





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Featured Artist: Bill Wilkey

Our Featured Artist for February will be Bill Wilkey from Helena, Montana. Bill’s work speaks of edges, angles, volume and contrast. All the work featured is wheel thrown and altered white stoneware, fired in a soda kiln. Soda firing is a process in which a Sodium Carbonate and Bicarbonate solution is injected into the kiln at the height of firing, approximately 2400 degrees F. The sodium vapor moves through the kiln and reacts with the silica in the clay and slips, resulting in a sodium-silicate, or glaze. The effect is striking, often producing dramatic and subtle flashing on the same piece.

Wilkey was chosen as one of Ceramics Monthly’s Emerging Artist of 2014, and his work was featured on the cover of Pottery Making Illustrated’s Nov/Dec issue. Bill is currently a long term resident at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena.

These pots are made with the human hand in mind, and we hope one finds a home with you today.


See the Show Here



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Matt Schiemann Workshop

We are thrilled to announce…

Botbyl Pottery & Companion Gallery will be hosting Matt Schiemann for a 3 Day Pottery Workshop in May of 2015.

Join us for this fun, educational, and inspiring weekend!

Hands On Workshop: May 7th & 8th

  • Spaces Available: 7
  • Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Fee: $250 Includes both days, unlimited clay, and multiple firings

Demo Workshop: Saturday May 9th

  • Spaces Available: 15+
  • Skill Level: Any
  • Fee: $55


Matthew Schiemann is a second-generation potter that grew up watching and helping his

dad create ceramic works.  This early exposure taught Matt to appreciate the handmade

object and eventually to choose the field of ceramics for himself.  He received his

Bachelors of Arts in Sculpture and Ceramics from Ashland University in 2005 and his

Masters of Fine Arts in Ceramics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2009.

While in graduate school, Matt worked as Harris Deller’s personal assistant and as a

Teaching Assistant for the wheel throwing and industrial design courses.  During this

time, he began building his own body of work focused on functional pottery fired in

atmospheric kilns.

After graduating from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Matt was accepted as an

artist in residence at the St. Petersburg Clay Company.  Shortly after being accepted as

A.I.R. Matt became an adjunct professor at Eckerd College for PEL program’s ceramics

department.  In October of 2010, Matt became co-owner/director of the St. Petersburg

Clay Company. Matthew is now currently the manager for the St. Pete Clay Artist in

Residence Program at the Morean Center for Clay and is an adjunct professor at St.

Petersburg College.

Botbyl Pottery & Companion Gallery are located behind the Crown Winery in Humboldt, Tn. The gallery and studio are nestled among 25 acres of rolling vineyard. Join us for this inspiring weekend of art and education. Call Eric at (731)267-7784 or email at (subject: Schiemann workshop) to book your spot now.