To Have and to Hold: Sarah Newberry in the StudioNovember 17, 2015
While some people spend the better part of their mornings wondering what they’re going to wear that day, Sarah Newberry spends her mornings looking for the perfect mug. “I open my cupboard in the morning to get a coffee mug and I think, oh, what do I want to drink from today? How am I feeling today? What does my experience want to be in that moment?”
Sarah came to WSW to create bowls for our annual Chili Bowl Fiesta and to experiment with her own functional pottery. Sarah alters the vessel as it’s thrown, creating movement in its unique curves. She plays with texture, leaving spots of raw clay to break through the glossy surface. A carved design completes each piece, giving the viewer a lot to appreciate within a single mug.
“I give them little personalities,” Sarah says. “Otherwise, I’m just making the same pot over and over again.”
It’s hard not to give the pots personalities with so much movement and character in each one. Sarah’s pitchers, with their potbellies and beak-like spouts, appear to be having lively conversations with her tiny, top-hatted flasks. Though she’s mostly working with familiar forms like mugs and bowls, Sarah also explores and expands upon more complex ceramic objects. The pitchers, which include a strainer, were an exciting challenge, but the flasks and whiskey jugs became a fast favorite. “There’s no fear when you’re just playing around,” Sarah says. “So what if you get it wrong? I’m really enjoying just messing up and figuring stuff out.”
The imagery and designs on each of Sarah’s pots are inspired by memories and places she’s been, like the beautiful landscapes of New Mexico where she currently lives or the house-lit streets of Michigan where she grew up. This all started years ago when Sarah, homesick and stir crazy after days and days of being cooped up in the ceramics studio, packed up all of her pots and sat outside. She began carving the world around her—things she saw, things she missed—as a way to create a unique, familiar experience for someone else using her pots.
Sarah leaves the carving lines in her pots to pick up some of the movement from the throwing wheel and to make the materiality of the piece shine through the glossy surface. While working at Taos Clay Studio and Gallery, Sarah fell in love with wood-firing as a way to add another layer of physical and visual tactility to her pots. In the kiln, bits of ash fly up and onto the pottery, creating a natural wood-ash glaze. The rustic surface of the wood-fired pots, the hand-carved grooves of the designs, the playful form—all of these elements combine to make works meant to be touched, held, and used everyday.
“I’m the person that goes to a store and touches everything,” Sarah admits with a smile. “I’m the reason there are guards at art museums.”
By changing up the surface and changing up the form, Sarah pushes just how much can happen in a single mug or bowl. With all of these textures and colors and designs, someone holding one of Sarah’s pieces can always find something new to admire. “I’m creating things that are meant to be used every day,” she says. “I’m not making things to just sit on a shelf. I actually get really disappointed when people say that they’re only going to use my pots on special occasions.”
While at WSW, Sarah wanted to take a step back from her familiar designs, but just couldn’t stay away from the comfort these flowers and houses create for her. Sarah includes her own personal moments in her work to create a personal moment for someone else, hoping that they’ll spend their mornings wondering what mug to have with their coffee, too.
Sarah Newberry is based in Taos, NM and works with functional ceramics. She graduated with a BFA in Ceramics and Art Education from Western Michigan University and currently works as a full time studio potter at Taos Clay. See more of her work at sarahnewberryceramics.com and see more images from her residency on our Flickr.