Emily works in clay and has been with RWS since March 2019. Emily started as an associate member at the clay center and as an RWS intern. Her studio space and position have evolved over time and she now has a private studio and is the RWS Clay Technician, all the while growing her business Armstrong Pottery.
Emily moved to Portland from Long Island to go to MECA. She thought she was going to be an illustration major and then she took a wheel throwing class as an elective. She knew within weeks it was what she wanted to do, and within a month of living in Portland she felt like she had found her people. “I wanted to live here immediately. I moved here in 2011 and have been here ever since. The biggest thing that keeps me here is Running With Scissors and the community here in this building, and my general art community and clients are here.”
She doesn’t refer to herself as an ‘artist’ or ‘ceramicist’; she prefers ‘maker’ or ‘potter’ because Craft with a capital ‘C’ serves a different purpose than fine art. “There’s no reason why, just because you use it every day, it can’t be cute as hell.” Making functional handmade items has always been a priority for Emily. She laughs when someone asks if they can touch the work because it is made to be handled. “It’s pottery that’s going to live on your table. You’re going to pick it up every day of your life.” She doesn’t want her work to be precious.
The aesthetic of her work has evolved out of necessity and in response to customer feedback. She started making hanging planters because she ran out of table space and couldn’t stop buying more plants (still can’t). The planters originated as hanging bowls that morphed into small pockets that she then adapted to a form with a backing specifically for the RWS 6x6 show that hung at Belleflower Brewing last fall. Hearing from customers and other people who come to her booth at fairs give her ideas about what she’s working with and how she can make them more functional or multifunctional. “I had a client tell me ‘I got a hanging planter from you and hang it in my bathroom and keep all of my essential oils in it.’” She wants people to know that a client’s interest, be it by compliment or appreciating the work, is just as important and necessary as buying it. All of the people who take the time to go to the craft shows or reach out on social media means a lot to makers and artists because it informs them what they should focus on.
The organic imagery and patterns Emily works with are highly decorative, which adds another dimension to these functional pieces. She has always been drawn to intricate patterns and repetition because she finds it exciting and inviting. Her designs are inspired by mehndi, Islamic pottery, and historical Iznik ceramics decorated in ornate, full-coverage floral motifs. Her designs came into their own when she started making asymmetrical designs. Breaking the symmetry and enlarging the design created movement around the pots and gave them the surface feel she was looking for. “It creates a moment of wonder like what’s on the other side.” The design draws you in and makes you want to explore the rest of the item–to come in and pick it up and turn it over in your hands." As it’s in their hands the client starts to think about what they’re going to do with it."
The blue motif is new for Emily. She recently was looking at clothing online and came across a top that had similarly amorphous shapes that reminded her of mid-century modern textiles. She started looking back at mod dresses from the 50s and 60s with colorful circles and bright, vibrant patterns. So she started using the blue underglaze to layer her designs with with these shapes. The process is playful and she says it feels good to switch to something that’s still in her wheelhouse but different enough where it feels really new and exciting. “That’s what I love about clay; it’s always changing and even if you’ve been doing the same thing the same way, one day everything could be different. It’s like problem solving; it keeps you on your toes.”
This is the time of year Emily tries out new ideas and forms and solicits feedback. It’s a time for her to play as well. Her work will be in a new gallery in Fryeburg this year (open date TBD). She will also be hosting Pots, Pints, and Pals, a paint your own pot night at Belleflower Brewing in late January. The event is sold out, but you can contact Emily to get on the waitlist for the next class. She is currently accepting new wholesale clients.