Draped in a clay-smudged apron, artist Susan Thompson greets a visitor to her newly opened studio, The Pottery Annex, at 913 Pacific Ave. There’s no sign yet, just a sheet of paper taped to the door. A gray tarp masks the floor. The lighting isn’t quite figured out. But those are minor details: it’s her pottery – beautiful, hand-made vessels with sensuous curves and arresting textures – that demands full attention.
Thompson launched her combined studio and retail venture under the auspices of Spaceworks Tacoma; specifically, its “Creative Enterprise” track, which matches eligible artists with vacant downtown space for three months, rent-free. For Thompson, this meant getting her work out of her basement (where she has two electric kilns, in addition to a gas kiln outdoors), and into a street-level storefront managed by Colliers International. Once she is officially open, on July 30, people can drop in and watch her throw and trim at the wheel – sometimes, under the watchful gaze of Gracie the chocolate labrador.
Thompson’s aesthetic is one in which finely made, functional objects elevate the rituals and small dramas of daily living: “I was an adult before I realized how the celadon green teapot used on gray, rainy days, and the casserole in which my mother made her tasteless Jello salads had become, for me, the keepers of family memories.” Her signature stoneware and porcelain vessels and cookware are hand-formed in handsome, classic shapes, with layers of rich, earthen glazes. She achieves intriguing textures by pressing random objects – woodblocks, small tiles, even a ravioli roller – into the clay. “It is my hope that the pieces that I make will be passed around the table….or used in some way with enough frequency that they become part of the woven fabric of life.”
Thompson gave up a cherished job as an elementary school teacher eight years ago in order to pursue her art: “Pottery just grabbed me by the collar and took me off in another direction, to my amazement.”
Her newfound passion has paid off: Today, she runs an Etsy site (www.susanskiln.etsy.com), is involved with Tacoma Community College’s ceramics program and has a full summer calendar of arts-and-crafts fairs. On Aug. 20-21 she will host the Fourth Annual Summer Sale of Pottery at her home studio in Tacoma. It will feature eight artists, a wealth of great pottery and Gracie, of course. Click on www.susanskiln.blogspot.com for details. The Pottery Annex, 913 Pacific Ave., through mid-Sept., 2010. Hours (starting July 30): Mon.-Fri. 1-5p.m.