Rachel is a clay artist working in stoneware who also occasionally paints with oils. She has been at RWS for about five years. She started out with a shared painting studio with two other wonderful artists and eventually moved to clay and has been in her current studio for almost two years. “I love it so much it feels like it’s always been mine.” Rachel adds that it was occupied by many fantastic artists before her. Rachel received her BFA in Painting and Piano from Western Michigan University. She is a classical pianist and teaches piano at the Portland Conservatory of Music. Rachel thought she would go into music therapy and art therapy but realized she was more interested in the technical aspects of each and the lifelong benefits of deep-diving into the skills of something. As a teacher Rachel feels that she is not only teaching piano, she is teaching a creative language, a way to exist in the world, and it’s a give and take. She makes a point to actively seek out what she calls ‘beginner brain’ because with it there is always possibility. Repetition is a concept Rachel has been exploring across her creative practices, but more specifically in her work as a painter. As a painter Rachel works in an intuitive, brushy kind of way, enjoying the thickness of the medium. In her paintings she focused on transformation through repetition and was moved to watercolor from oil. This change was brought about when two people close to her were in life-changing accidents. The experience affected how she could go into the studio and work; switching to watercolor and a different way of approaching her practice was a way for her to work through those years of uncertainty and be in the studio when it was really hard to do so. “My first love is painting. That physicality of the oil paint and pushing it around the canvas. But at that time, I felt that life was too difficult to continue working in the same way, yet still necessary to continue my studio practice.” Watercolor also lent itself to repetition. She would paint a lot of really thin layers, building it up toward grays. Oil is more intuitive and watercolor was better suited to this pattern of working: put a thin layer down, wait, come back to it and put another layer on. It was a very controlled process for Rachel. As she was exploring the idea in a more formal way, she questioned the balance between repetition as a maladaptive practice vs. a flow state and the dichotomy between the two. “One of the things I love about clay is that it's a chance to practice repetition in a different way.” Though she’s been working in clay since college, she’s excited by how much more there is still to learn. She had taken a few semesters of clay classes in college but she was too close to finishing her degree in painting to switch. It wasn't until a couple of years after graduating that she returned to clay, and now the medium has taken over her artistic practice.
Rachel is currently working with a mentor in clay to study glaze chemistry and atmospheric firing (where the artist controls and adds elements to the fire that have an effect on the appearance of the work, such as wood, salt, or Raku Firing). This apprenticeship was awarded by the Maine Crafts Association as a part of the 2022 Maine Craft’s Apprentice Program. Rachel recognizes that production is a return to repetition, albeit in a less specific way. “One of the reasons I love clay so much and why I like making functional work in clay is because it’s a really healthy expression of that repetition, and something about sitting at the wheel lends itself to the flow state. It’s a challenge that I find really satisfying in ways that I didn't when I was exploring it in painting.” She is currently working on producing a line of tableware, and is finessing the glaze recipes she hopes to use. Like many artists, Rachel is happiest when she’s making art. “Every possible moment, I want to be making things. If I’m home hanging out, I’m knitting. I’m happiest when my hands are moving and I've definitely had times when I didn't have a studio or regular art practice. Those times are incentives to make sure that I always do.” We hope so too. The line of tableware Rachel is currently producing will be available at The Merchant Company on Congress Street, The Little Red Teacup Tea Co. of Brunswick, and Handiwork in Deering Center. She can be contacted via Instagram (@rachel.herzer) or through her website, rachelherzer.com.