Sarah Reed – Contemporary Ceramics Artist
A warm puff of air brimming with porcelain dust and loaded with apprehensive excitement. For ceramics artist Sarah Reed, opening the porcelain oven is the tensest moment of the working day.
Sarah makes tea that we drink from thin porcelain cups while we talk and wait for the oven to cool sufficiently to open. Tea in small porcelain cups is one of her first childhood memories, tea with lots of sugar, in thin, dainty porcelain cups, served by the neighbors where she grew up in Kyvik, Stord, on the west coast of Norway. The neighbors let her play with the kittens and let her shovel horse manure. She did not develop any obsession with horses, but the fondness for cups might perhaps have started here. The affinity for flowers, leaves, and insects, that adorn most of her signature porcelain cups stems most probably from her English roots: Sarah was born in England, both her parents are English, and the affection for gardening and flowers runs strong in the family.
“The point with going away is to find out where you belong”
Sarah belongs on Stord, but wanted to follow her roots back to England, and was accepted at Central St. Martins Academy. She lived in London for several years and finished her education as a ceramist artist 18 years ago.
This was where she was introduced to pottery. After enrolling in the school with thoughts of becoming a sculptor, an attentive mentor made her understand how working with pottery suited her affinity for the whole process and creating pieces of art that were functional. The education was excellent and the environment inspiring, but London was big, crowded and noisy. After a while, she started longing for the fresh and free west coast of Norway.
“I have found you a workshop, come home!”
Our talk turns to coincidences and catching the possibilities as they sail by, grabbing coincidences and making them meaningful. A telephone about a spot opening up in a workshop, an erratic text message leading to marriage, a quiet moment on a bench on the wharf that makes you be present at the precise moment when someone comes by with an offer to buy a larger workspace. Silence falls around us while we contemplate the mystery of coincidences. And it is not only the fresh breath of sea air coming through the open door that is giving us chills.
“When the technique is difficult, you do not tire of it”
She is a trained pottery artist, but at school, they only worked with clay. Why did she make porcelain her material of choice? Because it is so difficult. Working with porcelain is challenging, and it is precisely this that makes Sarah never tire of working with it. Porcelain is costly, but the result is thinner, stronger, and more durable than if the items were made of clay. And it is only in porcelain she can create the transparent motifs that have become her trademark, sought after by galleries and shops all over Norway.
What is the favourite part of the process? The answer is short and concise: “Opening the oven!” while casting a glance in direction of the oven, which is humming potently, displaying 650 degrees at the moment. The excitement of opening the oven, never knowing if the result is how she wants it, is something she never grows bored of, and that still fills her with anticipation tinged with dread. She tells stories of moments where she was near giving up because of ovens that did not perform, consequently ruining weeks of hard work. So there are things in Sarah´s life that is absolutely not left to chance, and the functionality of ovens is one of those. It has been a long time since these horror stories, but they still evoke strong feelings. Nowadays it is mostly with gleeful anticipation she opens the oven, and the finished result is ready to be distributed to the various galleries and customers, among which a small batch manufacturer of shaving products at Fitjar, who has ordered lathering bowls…
“Meeting clever people makes me happy”
With such a great part of her production being made to order for galleries and shops, it is necessary to set aside time to develop new concepts and play with new expressions. “Something new is good for the mind”, she says. Unless she allows herself a month or two on such projects every winter, she becomes restless and frustrated. She chooses not to focus on trends and instead lets the ideas bubble from within. She is fascinated by different techniques, loves reading about how to solve technical challenges, be it about pottery or other art forms. She finds great inspiration in looking at other artists work, that have nothing whatsoever to do with ceramics, like for instance weaving. So what fills the air of the workshop, other than the light, dry dust of porcelain? Not radio, that’s for sure. Sarah grew tired of listening to it, says they say the same things over and over. She prefers audio books while working, and tells of the profound impressions Anna Karenina made on her while listening to it recently, compared to reading it years ago. At present, she is listening to The White Road by Edmund de Waal, about the history of porcelain.
Are there other things in Sarah´s life, not related to porcelain? Very little, by the sounds of it. Sarah loves traveling, but even when choosing where to go on family vacations, the choice is made based on where they can go visit and learn something while there.
“This is what I love. I would have done this no matter what”
The talk turns to life as an artist. Seeing the artistic possibilities in porcelain is what Sara lives both for, and of. Everyone knows that being an artist does not make you rich, and Sarah regards it as a great privilege that she is able to make a living as an artist. She goes on to say that you may have to be a bit naive, otherwise you’ll never become an artist. Or at the very least, one should give up the dream of a steady, large salary.
Time has passed, the tea is drunk and the oven is soon cool enough for Sarah to continue her daily work.
And I tuck the box of Fitjar Islands lathering bowls she has made for us under my arm and head for home with them, to be offered as valuable accessories to our shaving products.