I am an engineer. Thirty plus years ago, when I started down my chosen professional path, being a female engineer put me squarely in the unicorn-like category. How did I get there? As a pre-teen and teen, I excelled in math and science but dabbled in clay at home. In the more institutional setting of high school ceramics, I totally failed at making a saber-toothed tiger. However, that sculpture went on to win a blue ribbon at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo?! It was simply “rebranded” as a cougar. Ha, success! In that same class, I made a slab-built, burlap-textured, pea-green lidded jar that I gave to my mother as a Mother’s Day present. Almost 35 years later, she still cherishes that horribly inelegant piece and keeps it on her bureau for use as a penny jar. (Thanks, Mom, I love you too!) It’s these early attempts at being a potter wherein I’m reminded that what I might consider a failure because it doesn’t meet my type-A, perfectionist engineering standards of size, shape, color, or function, other people see as beautiful & worthy of display. I’ve found that working with clay is very meditative and helps me to relax after a long day of work. It also gives me great pleasure that my creations are still being used so many years later. In fact, that’s my ultimate goal — to produce sculptural, but functional, pottery that will be used and/or cherished for many, many years.
I grew up on Galveston Island. I loved the sand but I truly reveled in the wet, squishy sand closest to the water. It’s similar to the tactile feeling of clay as it whooshes through your hands as you center it on the wheel. I appreciate the technical challenge of taking a lump of clay and turning it into a three-dimensional object. The white stoneware I use is suitable for wheel throwing but I believe it also lends itself to the heavy cutwork & sculptural modifications I prefer. Also, the color palette of glazes available to me take very well to the stoneware and result in very good depth of color. Adding & subtracting clay, shaping, or otherwise altering the object inspires me to experiment with a glaze or glaze combination. I’m particularly fond of combinations of glazes especially when, for example, a yellow runs over a blue foundation color and reminds me of waves breaking on the shore. That’s why my work always has some form of finishing to the rim, the foot, or cutwork on it – to see how a glaze combination will pop out of the piece.
The majority of the pieces I make are for friends & family and, since I’m a multi-tasker, I’m usually working on several projects at any one time. Currently, I’m working on closed-thrown & altered turtles in memory of my late brother, Timothy. He was a very quiet & shy child who grew up to love the individual pursuits of surfing & skateboarding. Our relatives dubbed him “Timmy the Turtle” and the nickname stuck. I included a small lid on top of the turtles’ shells which allows access to add sand & seashells from the island. There’s also a number of inscriptions on the shell plates for my relatives to find and decipher their meaning. I’ve also got about three dozen daffodil tiles to make for a co-worker as well as some oil infuser pieces for another friend.
In the works for the general public are some closed-formed holiday ornaments that I saw in a pottery magazine last fall. I’ve started experimenting with what I can do with that idea and I’m looking forward to the technical challenge that these pieces present for glaze firing. Lastly, I have some pieces that I’ve been thinking about for a while now but I haven’t decided on whether to make them open vases or lidded jars. I’m going to pursue both forms and see which one folks like best. All of these pieces, with the exception of the tiles, are thrown & altered works that I’d like to explore choosing some wildly different glaze colors that fall, what I would consider, outside the norm. Then again, what is “normal” for an engineer/potter/unicorn?
Samantha received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. She moved to Minneapolis in late 1989 and began working full-time for a major manufacturing company headquartered in Maplewood, MN, in 1990. Although she’s a burnt orange loving Longhorn through & through, she decided to study ceramics at the University of Minnesota in 1994. Taking only night classes while working full-time, she excelled in ceramics under the guidance of professors Mark Pharis, Margaret Bohls, and Tom Lane. In 2003, she graduated, with honors, with a B.A. in Studio Arts and began renting studio space to work on her non-engineering hobby. She moved to Uptown Clay in 2016 and loves how close the studio is to her home in the Wedge neighborhood. When she is not in the studio or training for her next destination half marathon, she can be found walking around Uptown with the love of her life, Jim.