Kathy Riggs and Jake Willson are two potters living in Ojo Sarco, one village up the mountain from Truchas. In 1993 after many years of showing in galleries throughout the country, and in juried arts and crafts fairs, they opened a showroom at their Ojo Sarco studio. Throughout the years the gallery and studio space have grown. Kathy and Jake still show at several other galleries but market most of their pottery through their own gallery now. Their work has recently been chosen by international jurists to be included in The Best of 500 Ceramics, Celebrating A Decade in Clay.
They are known for their high fired porcelaneous functional ceramics and one of a kind pieces. In recent years Kathy has been concentrating on experimenting with sprayed glazes and furthering her work with primitive fired porcelain. Jake continues with his innovative designs in slab, extruded and hand built pottery. They collaborate on many of their pieces.
Kathy and Jake have begun showing the work of other artists in their gallery including Shino porcelain by Connie Christensen, fused glass by George Zarolinski, jewerly by Priscilla Walsen and oil paintings by Portland artist Randall David Tipton. It has added a depth to the gallery and Kathy and Jake have enjoyed representing artists they admire.
As I’ve said before on the blog, there are so many artists living and working along the High Road to Taos that I have found it difficult getting around to interview all of them. It was suggested that I write a few questions and send them out via email. I did that and I’m happy to say that Kathy and Jake responded. So here are the questions along with Kathy’s answers. We’ll hear from Jake on Thursday:
1. How long have you been making art and how/why did you start?
I originally apprenticed with Jenny Lind and Dick Masterson in the early seventies. I had studied liberal arts at Bennington College in Vermont. It really was by chance that I originally took a workshop with Jenny Lind, who was an excellent porcelain potter in the Santa Fe area. I had an immediate affinity for clay and she asked me to be her apprentice. I have been making pottery ever since. My husband, Jake, joined me in the pottery in the late 1980s and has become an expert at slab building. I’ve had the privilege of taking some wonderful workshops with many inspiring potters: Paul Soldner, John Glick, Steven Hill, Michael Cardew, John Leach, Priscilla Hoback, Robin Hopper. I try always to continue my education whether it be thru workshops, museums or art galleries.
2. Have you ever stopped making art?
Never! It’s been a life style—there is always a better pot to be made, a better form to explore.
3. What is your art? Describe it and your inspiration for it.
I get my inspiration from the natural world. Lately I find myself drawn more to organic, subtle glazes and pit firing. Some days I couldn’t make my work without music playing. My best days are alone in the studio throwing porcelain.
I originally came to New Mexico to visit college friends and took a pottery course with Jenny Lind as I’d always had an interest but didn’t have time to take pottery in college. I was never expecting to be a potter or to stay in the southwest. First I fell in love with clay and then this area. In my early days in Santa Fe I hiked a lot in the Truchas/Penasco area and eventually moved here. I’ve been living in Ojo Sarco for thirty years. Moving west from the east suited my personality and I found my home here. The early days in the 70s in Santa Fe was a very exciting time for a young artist. It seemed like a very small town and you knew everyone.
5. What does it feel like to make your art?
Throwing is relaxing, if physically demanding some days, but very meditative. There are so many aspects to pottery making–recycling and preparing my clay, throwing on the wheel, glazing the pot, learning the chemistry of the glazes and the final firing. It’s a job that requires many skills and I enjoy that. Now in our gallery we carry a few other artists and I enjoy promoting their work and treating them well.
6. Is making art always easy for you? Describe your process.
The process in glazing is the hardest part for me—I much prefer to be working with the wet clay. I work in series (i.e. a series of teapots) and like to think that each form is better than the previous one. I’m always looking forward to the better form to be made. Lately I’ve been very excited by a new way of glazing that involves spraying many layers of glaze on. It’s very difficult and demanding—I guess I enjoy stretching myself and exploring a new way to work.
7. What do you think it means to be an artist?
You have to be extremely dedicated—it’s not an easy road. I think people are sometimes afraid to think of themselves as artists. You can be artful in your everyday approach to life—being a mom, a cook, a gardener. Often before work I garden in my flower garden—it’s a good start to the day.
8. Do you have any advice for others who want to become artists? For those who have lost their art but want to come back to it?
9. Why do you create? Do you believe it’s a discipline or a desire or both? How do you get to your art? Is a regular work schedule a necessity or a hindrance?
I feel very gifted to be able to make my living working with my hands—it is usually very joyful for me. It keeps me grounded. I do work a regular schedule but also leave time to play and learn new things—exploring outdoors, being with family and friends. In the past I have taught adaptive skiing to people with disabilities. This summer I volunteered with the Santa Fe Folk Art Market. Presently I’m planning a kayak trip down the Green River in Utah. I know that trip will be very inspiring as I take in the colors of the canyon walls. Pottery is very demanding physically and as I age I realize I have to take breaks from it.
10. Do you see art as product or process? Please explain.
It’s a process and a journey—a journey of form and color and becoming the best artist you can possibly be. A good pot has a life to it and people feel that life. It is very gratifying when people truly appreciate our work.