Kari Radasch is a studio potter living in Westbrook Maine. She received her BFA from Maine College of Art and her MFA from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Kari was the first potter to receive the Evelyn Shapiro Foundation Fellowship at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia and was awarded a 2006 SAC Artist Award from the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston. She was a demonstrating artist at the 2010 NCECA conference in Philadelphia. Kari has taught workshops and lectured across the country. Currently she teaches ceramics at Southern Maine Community College
What were some of the challenges you faced when after finishing your MFA?
I just worried a lot. I worried about whether or not I would have to get a job at Starbucks, whether I’d be able to sell work and support myself, how would I afford health insurance, and that I wasn’t going to be doing enough good in the world, you know, I was just worried. After finishing school I had a chance to go to Anderson Ranch, but I couldn’t make the numbers work, I really wanted to go, but it just didn’t seem like it would work. So I stayed in Nebraska another year and it turned out to be one of the smartest things I could’ve done. I lived very, very cheaply, and I had a
great studio with a packing area and a photo booth. I was able to pinch enough pennies that I could support myself on the work I made and not have to get a job. I think if you put yourself out there enough things have a way of working themselves out. You have to have this kind of blind faith, maybe that’s totally naïve on my part; but I just had to stop worrying about everything.
Do you find any conflict between your artistic pursuits and the necessity to make a living, or are they one and the same?
I think that for the most part they are really the same. I make my living from work and to some degree the market can’t help, but inform my work. If people are buying mugs and not bowls, I’m going to make more mugs. Yet, now I feel that I’m more conscious than ever about having to give myself time in the studio to play and experiment. At first I was doing wholesale and it really burned me out. I remember taking orders for dishes and then I’d go home and have to make 250 of them over the next year. I could make that work with my eyes closed, but I felt like a factory and I didn’t like that feeling. I felt that I wasn’t being honest with my customers and myself. For the most part I’m happy with the place where artistic pursuit and making a living meet, but I can see the danger there and for that reason I’ve stayed away from doing wholesale shows for the last two years.
Your work has gone through a metamorphosis in the last few years, what brought about the changes?
I felt like I knew something had to change because I wasn’t happy in the studio. I needed time to work and experiment in studio and decided that would be ok even if it meant going and getting a part‐time job somewhere to make that happen. In the Fall of 2006, I co‐taught a class with Meredith Brickell. That was two months I was receiving a steady paycheck and I had time to be in the studio at night and on the weekends. I had a chunk of time to be in the studio and just started playing. I cleared my calendar and didn’t commit to any shows during that time and even told myself that I would demo my usual work for the class, but when I got in studio I’d work on something completely different. So one of the first things I started working on was this mosaic floor for my house. I was rolling out slabs and cutting these free‐form shapes that were floral in nature. I made them for about two weeks and these objects became so interesting I began to ask, “How could I get these on my pots?” That’s really where this appliqué method started on my pots. It’s been about two years and I feel like just now am I getting a handle on the work again. I made a lot of ugly pots and that was really hard. These past two years have been about stripping the work down and then being really careful what I put back into it. It’s definitely been a struggle, but since I started this new approach everyday has been a day I wanted to be in studio.
Being a full time studio potter, is there any advice you would offer others interested in pursuing that path?
I personally think that the most important thing is to live cheaply, don’t buy things you don’t need. Something Silvie Granatelli told me was, “always invest in yourself”. Another really useful piece of advice I got was to, “always make sure you have something to work for” and especially out of school. Whether it is exhibitions or projects you have to find a place to work. Find a place to sell your work because if you don’t have a place to sell your work you might stop making work. Instead you’ll have boxes and boxes of stuff. I also think it’s important to sell work at craft shows because you’ll learn so much from the way people interact with your work. The way they handle the pots, the questions they ask, and how you interact with them. That information can be very valuable. If you spend a couple days at a craft fair or trade show locked in a 10 x 10 booth you’ll learn things about your work that you might not otherwise see. The work is out of the studio and in a clean space and I know I learned things about my work I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
How important is teaching in the classroom and teaching at workshops for your artistic growth?
I don’t live in an a city, I’m surrounded by suburban neighborhoods. Leading workshops gets me out of the studio talking with people and going to new places. The other great thing is that you meet all these really interesting people from different back grounds. A benefit of teaching is that it has replaced some of my wholesale income . . . it’s a part of how I make my living now. I teach community classes in my town, it’s held in the teachers’ lounge at the VOC center and I bring everything in I need for every class. That class serves as a way for me to get to know my community. You know its and old paper mill town with lots of blue‐collar jobs and not a lot of access to the arts so I enjoy making that connection.
When you exhibit your work how do you know what venues are right for you, and what advice would you have for artists just beginning to show their work?
I honestly don’t feel like I know right now what the right venues are for my work. I don’t know that I knew where they were before, but it seems like where ever I sent my work before it did a pretty good job of selling. It s something I really have to start figurine out. In a slightly off‐topic but related observation I think there’s something going on in the world in regards to selling ceramic art. If you look at the individuals that make up the ‘buying public’ for ceramics, there seems to be no young people and they’re a pretty big gap. It’s mostly older people that are downsizing their collections and moving from the suburbs back to the cities and I don’t see a younger buying population. What happens when they stop buying? Who’s going to be out there buying work? I know this is something a lot of galleries are worried about and it’s something to consider.
Could you talk a little about your website? What kind of information is important to include? Who is your audience?
I think that every artist should have a website, they’re so easy. I’m not really computer savvy and my husband does a lot of the website design for me, but I update and do most of it myself now. Its better if you can maintain it on your own. Get a site you can do all the maintenance on, that way you don’t have to pay someone to do it and you are in charge of your own site. My website does a lot of different things. It tells people where they can find my work, whether that’s a craft show or specific gallery. That way they know where to go to see the work and I always list those venues on my site and provide links to the organizations hosting the events. I also, put my resume and artists’ statement on there because so often you get requests from galleries and that way you can just direct them to the website to download it. It’s just one less thing you have to worry about then. I feel it’s important to have my technical information on there as well. Because I enjoy teaching and all the information I’ve found or been given I don’t feel like it’s proprietary information. It should be out there for people to use and especially for my students from classes or workshops. I also have a blog and I feel it’s a way people can stay connected to me and what’s going on in the studio, what I’m thinking about and offer a little bit of personal access to my life. My audience is very broad and at the same time specific in the sense that it’s peoples who want to buy my work or who want to find some information. Mostly it’s for people that have some kind of interest in clay.