“As a product of an American father and a Mexican mother, I am influenced by the conflicting expectations I have received as a woman within my two cultures,” says artist Nicole McLaughlin. From her studio in Marion, Massachusetts, McLaughlin combines historically domestic crafts—ceramics and fiber art—into striking sculptures that explore identity and heritage, particularly in relation to gendered expectations, traditions, and the changes that occur as generations pass.
In her mixed-media works, the artist contrasts the soft, pliable fibers with the fragility of the plates painted with blue-and-white motifs. Dyed in subtle gradients and earth tones, the loose threads are woven through the sloping ceramic edges and knotted in the center. McLaughlin explains how it’s important that the utility of both elements is removed once combined:
(The vessels) serve as vehicles for fiber. As the fiber flows from, weaves into, or frames the ceramic, it distorts the functionality but becomes a meaningful component as plate and cloth merge. The vessels contain an expression of femininity and an essence of personal and cultural history.
These dichotomies in the materials also reflect the artist’s experience eschewing “the feminine ideals of my Mexican identity,” she says. “I am a force, and I think I tend to push the boundaries of what might be within the female expectation in Mexican culture.”
Currently, McLaughlin is serving as a teaching fellow at Tabor Academy. She sells some smaller ceramic pieces in her shop, and you can follow her work on Instagram, where she also shares glimpses into her process.
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People’s Pottery Project (PPP) has a simple mission: “to empower formerly incarcerated women, trans, and nonbinary individuals and their communities through the arts.” The value of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, though, reaches far beyond the ceramics studio where its members carefully sculpt and glaze dinnerware to sell from its warehouse.
At the heart of PPP is mutual aid, a form of community support and solidarity that rapidly expanded at the onset of the pandemic but that has a rich history in political movements. The initiative is multi-faceted—it currently employs three people full-time and two part-time, and formerly incarcerated folks can drop in to help in the production process and be paid for their contributions. Depending on COVID-19 guidance and the ability to meet in-person, PPP also hosts community classes. As restrictions lift in the coming months, the organization plans to expand these offerings as it strives to stabilize its income and connect with more artists.
The project began when co-founder Molly Larkey hosted free pottery workshops for women, trans, and non-binary folks, many of whom were experiencing homelessness. “It was immediately apparent that people who came to class needed to be paid for their time: not only to value their creative contribution toward the organization that was starting to take form but as a way to put money in their pockets,” Larkey says. Many of the gatherings simultaneously sparked conversations about job opportunities and housing options, which offered additional support beyond the group’s creative practice.
Two attendees in these early days were Ilka Perkins and her wife, Dominique, women Larkey knew through her volunteer efforts with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an organization that works tirelessly to have people who are incarcerated be released through commutation, parole board support, and legislative reform. Larkey offered Perkins a job as an artist assistant prior to Perkins’ release from the California Institution for Women in 2020. Soon after, the two co-founded PPP.
Today, the organization sells 10-inch plates and bowls in three sizes—every item is made entirely by hand so the pale blues and earthen tones vary on each dish—with plans to create new products and special packaging that details the issues communities are facing. These include DROP LWOP (Drop Life Without the Possibility of Parole) and SURVIVED & PUNISHED, two abolitionist campaigns that current PPP employee Susan Bustamante, who previously was serving a life sentence, is involved in.
Many of the fully functional ceramics are sold for $50, a price point that aligns with PPP’s goals. The idea is “to share our beauty and creativity, to employ as many formerly incarcerated people as we can in meaningful creative work and make our ceramics accessible to anyone and everyone,” Larkey says. “We are hopeful that our art will also function as advocacy so that people learn more about the issues affecting us and our loved ones who are still incarcerated.”
As for future endeavors, Larkey is optimistic about the possibilities of artists getting involved in mutual-aid efforts as a way to support their neighbors. “There is a real need for creative skills but the most important thing—and I can’t stress this enough—is to be involved with a community over a period of time,” she says. “The groundwork has been already laid by the people most impacted by systemic oppressions such as the prison industrial complex, and they will be the ones who know what is most needed.”
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Caroline Harrius merges two historically domestic crafts in her florally embroidered vases. The Stockholm-based artist shapes tall vessels and studs them with tiny holes just big enough for thread to pass through. Adorned with a readymade cross-stitch pattern or Harrius’s own floral motifs, the finished vases are semi-functional and visualize the intersections of gender and craft history, particularly in relation to decoration and purpose.
Harrius recently graduated with a master’s degree in ceramics art from Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design, where she began the porcelain pair. “This was the first time I felt ashamed of something I was working on. I wanted to hide my vases so no one could see them when I was not there and could explain the reason behind the work. For some reason, I saw no value in the curvy vases and didn’t want to be associated with them,” she shares.
Now working from her studio in the iconic Swedish porcelain factory, Gustavsberg, Harrius plans to create a third vessel with black-and-white stitching—follow her on Instagram for progress on this design—to complete the series that questions historical conceptions of women’s work. “I’m interested to see how I revalue the techniques when (they’re) taken out of their original context and are combined into one piece,” she writes. (via Brown Paper Bag)
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Spread flat or folded in shapeless piles, Cecil Kemperink’s bulky chain sculptures contrast the solid ceramic material with the flexibility of their shapes. The movable works are comprised of hundreds of loops that link together in sheets of earth tones and subtle gradients. Whether heaped on the floor or draped across Kemperink’s body, the hefty chain mail is at once supple and fragile.
The artist (previously), who is based on the island of Texel in the Netherlands, draws her understanding of motion from the surrounding water and environment. “I love the rhythm of nature, the tides, the (change) of the length of the days, the seasons, the changes continuous,” she shares. “I try to translate the rhythm, the time, the colors, the continuous movements in different ways into my work.”
Follow Kemperink’s latest works, which will include ten pieces for an installation, two larger works, and a wall sculpture in the coming weeks, on Instagram.
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From her Baltimore studio, Israeli artist Zemer Peled (previously) sculpts countless spikes and oblongs into densely textured artworks. Amorphous forms bristle with porcelain pieces of varying shape and hue, mimicking organic elements like coral reefs and intertwined vines. Other sculptures depict oversized blooms with the firm, pointed edges of each shard directly contrasting the soft and fleshy petals found in nature.
Explore Peled’s available pieces in her shop and on Artsy, in addition to her line of cobalt tableware created in collaboration with the French porcelain manufacturer Bernardaud. You can follow her work and find glimpses into her process on Instagram, and head to her site to see her recent coronavirus-themed pieces.
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Madriguera Workshop’s eccentric characters might be the quietest guests at your next dinner party. Helmed by Lydia de la Piñera and Luis Llamas, the Galicia-based studio handcrafts a range of anthropomorphized clay pieces that are shaped into playful pots, cups, and serving ware. Tousled chives and spiked succulents become hair for the two-legged planters, while the face collection features a subtle, elegant figure with a long nose and crooked smile.
Madriguera’s face tray just was named a finalist in the 2020 Etsy Design Awards, and a few pieces are still available on Etsy and in the workshop’s store. To follow new releases and stock updates, head to Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
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