Interview with CanvasRebel

Interview with CanvasRebel

Meet Olla Ceramics

We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Olla Ceramics a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.

Olla Ceramics, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.

Working with materials that take so much time to collect and process generates a sense of meaning in a project immediately. Each foraged clay has its own geological and cultural history, birthplace. I consider the context of how it was collected, what plants or buildings were nearby, even whether it was dry or rainy that day. All of these affect my relationship with the material and generate the foundation for the creative process in the studio.

I can be more specific. Whenever I am making pieces with terrestrial clay from the San Diego region, my projects are always in some way a prayer to the Kumeyaay Nation. I grew up near the Viejas reservation, many of my friends, family friends, classmates, sports coaches- even my doctors and nurses were Kumeyaay. When I listened to the elders speak about their relationship and reverence for nature, it echoed the feelings I had myself, as a child sitting alone by the stream. But they had all the stories and the expertise.

They were the obvious teachers in my mind. Going to grade school and finding out that historically and presently they haven’t been treated with any respect at all by outsiders, was confusing and painful. This land that I loved was actively watched over and supported for hundreds of years by their scientific and spiritual contributions.

When I think about the history of a San Diego clay held in my hand, I can see its origins as volcanic ash in the ocean, its burial and rebirth in the high mountains millions of years later.. the finest particles weathered by nature. How it slowly trickled back down and landed in nearby rivers, streams, and lakes. Then the Kumeyaay learned everything about it, the original scientists. I’ve found clay deposits from their cataloged research, and if not for discovering ancient shards of their pit-fired pottery in the soil at my childhood home, I may never have found wonder in ceramic art in the first place.

In the last year, I was given the honor of working with clays and sediments collected by the Scripps Oceanography Institute that are collected in core samples from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. There are massive messages to be shared there concerning the health and gifts of our oceans.. but that is a story for down the road, as my work with it continues.

Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers.

I make ceramics out of clays and sediments foraged from around the globe. Each material goes through thorough testing and cultural exploration before being made into a piece of art. Some travel from thousands of miles away, all belonging to a different geographical environment. I’ve recently begun working with marine sediments that were collected from the deep ocean floor on geological research vessels. I host workshops where I show potters how simple foraging for clays can be, and I teach intimate throwing intensives in my studio for students looking for a more decompressing way to learn ceramics or deepen their practice.

Certain people connect to the kind of work I do, be it my workshops, lesson styles, or the “wild” clay ceramic ware. I don’t trouble myself too much with branding and selling myself anymore, I try my best at all times to let the work do itself while I stay out of the way. I’ve found that it’s easy to connect with others about this work because we all have a connection to a certain place and it’s nice to think about what the soil there is capable of, if it is workable for art, what it smells and feels like. Most people look over soils and sediments as just dirt under our feet, unaware of all its complexities and contributions to our (even modern) lives.

If it interests you, more information can be found on ollaceramics.com

It’s worth mentioning that an Olla is a universal clay form. Nearly every culture in the world that has access to clay has a functional and personal connection to their ollas. Some save precious plant food from drought (American Southwest), and some are buried with family members to keep them close to the day-to-day rituals. (Egypt) It captures what I love about natural ceramics, that it is ancient, unpretentious, and wildly personal.

Are there any resources you wish you knew about earlier in your creative journey?

I wish I had known how welcoming and enthusiastic museum and collegiate spaces were when I was early in my soil research. Highly acclaimed people and places often come with this assumed air of exclusivity and lack of desire for “outsiders.” But as an artist now working with esteemed universities, research establishments, and museums I’ve found that earnest passion for a subject and the personal devotion to your work holds much more weight for these communities than a seal of education. We all love to have radiant discussions about the topics we’ve committed our lives to. When someone shares that passion, it feels like alchemy. Having a novel idea, even if it is incomplete, and reaching out to specialists in that field is entirely worth it. Don’t be afraid to look up contacts on a company’s website and send an email. Connection is the greatest resource.

We’d love to hear the story of how you built up your social media audience.

This is an interesting question as I recently stopped using social media for my business, and it has gone incredibly well. In the months I have not been on (Instagram), my career has skyrocketed. I pivoted towards building a website that was routinely updated and represented my work best, I began reaching out to local companies whose values I thought aligned with my own and it quickly yielded worldwide connections. I had my reservations of course, as a modern-day business owner, but I realized that ultimately I wanted to be an artist, not a social media coordinator. And especially, I didn’t want myself to be the center of attention- a lifestyle personality, selling behind-the-scenes world along with my work. I tallied up the hours I would spend creating Instagram reels, posting stories, and scheduling content, and it was comparable to a part-time job.

What could I achieve if I spent that time further honing my craft and building a larger collection of work? Enough to get into a gallery in Paris I’ve dreamed of for years, a feature in House & Garden magazine, and more, within two months. A well-documented body of work that is only half as good as what you are truly capable of is a shame in my opinion. It became important to me to strive to make art that was worth putting out into the world. And if I had succeeded, it would warrant being discussed and shared without my intervening. And, I am much happier.