We are in love with Stephanie Wilhelm's adorable ceramic wares. Inspired by her love of dogs, each one is an affectionate tribute to her furry, four-legged friends.
When were you first interested in working with clay?
I had always been involved in the arts, but my focus was in painting and drawing. During my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Mexico and took a ceramics course. However, it was after graduating that I became interested in pursuing ceramics as a career. I worked for a production potter in my home town, called Shiloh Pottery. There I learned to build the technical skills required to throw pottery, and also I began teaching. After three years of working there and a few years working at the Frederick Clay Studio, I decided I wanted to continue my education in the ceramic arts.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I spent years as a wood-firing potter but always kept a sketch book of drawings. I loved combining color and pattern so eventually I began to incorporate that passion into my work. Dogs always hold a very special place in my heart. I have fostered dogs and volunteered at local shelters for several years now. I often think (that) the unconditional love and loyalty (in dogs) plays a significant role in our personal lives, as well as (in) the relationships around us. My work references our current relationship with the dog. There is so much research on the dog in art, and the use of dogs as surrogate human beings and as a metaphor. I look at a lot of canonic masterpieces where dogs are essential to the meaning of the narrative and provide symbolism for the presence of human emotions; a sense of belonging and comfort through companionship.
(There is) a history of clay forms approached as a canvas. My work moves beyond the conventional plate, varying in shape, incorporating low relief volume, and gold details to emphasize ideas of softness and comfort. Most importantly, what I truly hope is that my work brings people happiness or a sense of nostalgia and comfort.
What is most rewarding about working in clay?
Firstly, its ability to form and maintain community. Ceramics was the first place and moment that I felt a true sense of belonging and helped me make life-long friendships.
Being someone who also has always enjoyed painting and drawing, I see clay as this three dimensional canvas and a surface to fill and create narrative within. And through the use of ceramics, especially pottery, it has the means of becoming incorporated into another person’s life and routine.
What is most challenging about being a professional ceramic artist?
Financially, it is a struggle of course but I’ve tried my best to make it work and continue to advance my skills and knowledge. But, I would have to say that pursuing a graduate degree in ceramics has been a challenge for me. That was my first time being challenged to communicate concept through my work. It has been a big learning curve as someone who had never experienced these conversations and challenges before. But I can see the ways in which it matters and has strengthened my work and my ability to communicate my own personal values.
What AMACO products do you return to that inform your work?
The AMACO Underglazes are extremely important, since I paint and draw on my ceramics and want to maintain detail and pattern after the glaze and firing. I use the black underglaze especially for my mishima technique to get the fine, graphic line quality of my drawings. The AMACO Satin Matte glazes are a new favorite of mine. I appreciate the layers that show through them and I don’t lose my line quality underneath the glaze!
I’m working to emphasize these ideas of comfort and softness through form and pattern, and the AMACO products provide the ability to do that.
NCECA Graduate Fellowship:
I was one of this year’s recipients of the NCECA Graduate Fellowship Award and had the amazing opportunity to travel to Italy researching my technique of applying buon fresco to ceramic forms. It was an invaluable challenge to learn how to write a grant proposal and communicate firmly and clearly my goals and how the grant would best benefit my research. Italy was the experience of a lifetime. I traveled for three weeks from Rome all the way north to Venice, then attended a workshop where I worked alongside an expert in the field of Buon Fresco. NCECA enabled me to see the ways in which ceramics have been a form of documentation and narrative throughout the history of the arts. (This) changed my work completely. Viewing the many frescos and techniques that I researched in person also brought my research full circle. I returned to the states with a lifetime of education and experience, as well as the fuel to take conversation and research in new directions.
If you could listen to only one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Ehhhhhh, only one?!?! Um…. Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Their music is as awesome as their name, haha.
If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
Rescuing dogs and traveling the world. Hard to do both though.
What's your favorite book?
“Madness, Rack, and Honey,” by Mary Ruefle
Finish this sentence: I would rather be...
...in the studio with a cute dog at my feet.