A Potter for the 21st Century
A Potter for the 21st Century
After months of lockdowns and isolation amid a global pandemic, Indianapolis potter Sarah Anderson bought a small Serro Scotty camper and took to the highway. This 20-something graduate of Ball State University recruited her dog Pip and her friend Merrat Metzger and began a journey that brought her to new vistas and built a real community out of virtual connections.
The daughter of two graphic designers, Anderson knew creativity was in her future. “I was encouraged by my parents and my older brother to develop my artistic talent. In college, I worked my way through all the media – glass, metal, print, photography – and saved clay for last because I knew I would love it,” she says. A hand-building class introduced her to Greek vessels with a narrative or story on the surface, but it was not until her first job as an instructor at the Indiana Art Center that she began to develop her signature sgraffito technique. She explains, “Because of the availability of materials at the art center, I really started producing. I was able to make my own class schedule and introduced one on sgraffito, which became very popular.”
Anderson’s work is colorful, playful, and joyful. A cast of frog-like characters populate her pieces, in bright desert western settings. “I like to make pretty things,” she says, and her pieces do cause one to smile. As a child, she contracted Lyme disease, a chronic condition that she struggles with daily. “I don’t want to remind people of the pains that we all have in life,” she explains. “I want to bring joy and happiness.” Ironically, the carving process can cause swelling and pain in her hands. She says that pain can be transforming if you do not deny its reality. The beautiful and joyful pieces that emerge spread positivity. “I love that someone has a nice cup for their coffee and that it brings them joy,” she says.
As a millennial, Anderson naturally turned to social media to market her work. Her Instagram page is filled with images, videos, and quips about her work and life, both in the studio and on the road. She has amassed 110,000 followers – a colossal number for a potter – primarily through storytelling. The posts create an image of a vibrant, humorous, and creative artist. She says that social media requires a delicate balance. “It brings people together, but it can be alienating. Although the ‘person’ on the site is me and the stories are my life, I disassociate myself from that ‘brand.’ The realness draws people in, but I can’t tie myself to it too personally. That way, the occasional offensive responses don’t hit too close to home.”
It was, in part, this sense of disassociation that was the catalyst for the first camping trip, which came to be known as Mobile Maker: Clay. The weight of the real world played out in 3,500 pounds of equipment and supplies that had to be loaded into a tiny camper and a tow vehicle. “I learned a lot about weight distribution,” she says. “We had to become capable loadmasters to keep the caravan on the highway.” Her companions Merrat and Pip joined her in March of 2022 on the trek from Indiana, through the Southwest, to that year’s NCECA conference in Sacrament, California. Through social media, they connected with potters along the way, visiting their studios and taking time for making. They carried a small Brent A pottery wheel and 200 pounds of clay, which they set up by the camper, powered it with a solar generator, and went to work.
Anderson says that Mobile Maker: Clay is in a transition period. “We need to figure out the next step,” she says. “After our first trips, we are now looking to fill a creative team with three to six people.” Anderson hopes to establish a board that may include artists in other media. The new name will be Mobile Makers: Community, which speaks to the vision that Anderson has for the future. “We want to help others in community,” she says, “and to become a resource for artists.”
The vastness of the western landscape spoke deeply to Anderson on her journeys. She incorporated the culture into her work, with cowboy frogs and cacti. She says that her characters represent aspects of herself, with very expressive facial features and an appealing oddness. “Their form is exaggerated. They can be used as a vessel to express ourselves. And they don’t talk back!”
This back and forth play between the real and virtual is a fundamental theme in not only Anderson’s work, but in the work of new artists in this century. Anderson is breaking up the old norms of education, residency, and exhibition by making use of the barrier-breaking digital universe and the distance conquering old-fashioned road trip.
Mobile Maker is on the move again with The Sgraffito Tour. The first stop is Pittsburgh, where Anderson will offer a Friday workshop at Standard Clay on Friday, October 13, followed by a free demonstration on Saturday, October 14, in conjunction with Standard’s Second Saturday. Sign up for $50 for the workshop, by email at email@example.com.
Learn more about Sarah Anderson and Mobile Makers at www.sarahandersonceramics.com