HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Ben Elliott


When did you decide to become and artist and why?
I was interested in art/craft as long as I can remember. My great uncle was a painter and I remember seeing his paintings in many of my relatives’ houses. At some point, I started drawing a lot and pretending to be an artist.  I also remember driving through WNC at a young age and being in awe as we passed houses with beautiful quilts, pottery, and woodcarvings set out by the road for sale. I credit those memories for planting a seed that inspired me to become a maker.

What would you say informs you work?
Currently, I am working on a series of sculptures informed by old sayings associated with time.  My interpretations of these phrases translate into a series of sculptural objects. Through my choices of imagery, each piece becomes a passage from a personal narrative. This work tends to referenc my cultural surroundings here in rural WNC. My functional line of work is influenced by the history of glass, other glass artists, and the natural world.

What’s your design process like?
Designing a piece used to involve lots of trial an error. Now that I don’t have as much free time I have to plan things out a little more. I usually start with some thoughts on the idea and sketches. Sometimes I will make a more detailed drawing before I start constructing a piece.  I always leave room for the idea to evolve during the process.  For the more functional work, a large part of the design comes out of the process. With this work I usually start with an Idea, make it, then try to make it better.  This may involve altering a shape or changing a color pattern several times. Constantly filtering out unwanted elements of a design allows my work to continue evolving.

How has your work changed over the years?
When I started exploring three-dimensional work, I worked mainly in clay, wood, and metal. Some of this work had small elements of flameworked glass. This work was much larger in scale due to the materials and influences at the time. After moving around a few times, storage and transporting large heavy sculptures became an issue. As I got more involved in the glass community, glass became my main focus. I now have a line of functional glass and continue to make small-scale sculptures.

What is the most challenging thing about working in your medium?  
Like most mediums, the process of working with glass provides many life lessons. Working with glass is a humbling experience. It requires patience, persistence, and focus. It is common for hours or even days of work to crash to the floor for what seems like no reason. There are days when I wonder why I chose to work with such a fragile, unforgiving material.

Why or how did you choose your medium?
I’m still not sure if I chose glass or glass chose me. Over the years it seems like we have shaped and molded each other to the point where we have a somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. We don’t always get along, but we manage to make it work.

 If you weren’t doing this work, what would you do?
I did a little bit of everything before being devoted to art/craft. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else. I do have concerns about the energy and resources that a glass studio requires. This is the main thing I question about my career choice. I guess if I had to change my occupation, I would like to do something that doesn’t add to our current environmental issues. I would like to think the positive aspects of arts/crafts counterbalance the negative impact it has on our resources.

How is your work integrated with the community?
I try to stay involved with some public glass studios to teach classes and interact with the community. Continuing these traditional forms of art/craft defines part of the culture in our community. The void of these traditions is replaced with more destructive forms of consumerism. I like the thought of my functional works used in everyday life by our local patrons. The recent emergence of a local awareness has helped encouraged more support in the art/craft community. I hope that this idea grows and results in a more sustainable local economy.



HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Carla Filippelli


Who or what are your major influences?
The inspiration for all of our creations from the very beginning has been the endless acts of creation of/by Mother Nature.  Our first focus, in 1979 was extracting colors from the many dye plants of Western North Carolina.   This extraction and the process of dyeing fibers and reeds opened our eyes to the hidden secrets within the natural world. Shape and color of course are apparent everywhere but to focus on the acts of creation itself have been our real inspiration.   After many years of traditional Appalachian basketry and using patterns of all kinds, we discovered the weavers within nature.  The animals that do not use easily recognizable patterns were our guides and teachers.  We watched spiders and birds at work, particularly the weaver birds; we observed beavers weave their logs into dams and noticed the tiniest mouse nest was woven from soft, found materials.   Suddenly we had become free from traditional patterns, and our work reflected this immediately and has never been the same. That’s when I developed the random weave style of weaving.  Some of our shapes for the baskets were inspired by the traditional forms of Appalachian basketry other shapes came out of a more random process that the weave dictated.

What’s your design process like?
We really enjoy creating large wall sculptures for residences or corporate spaces.  Working with clients about color, interiors, shapes etc is what informs us of what we want to design. Then a very left brain process takes place and we let the wild vines and reeds guide us to free flowing shapes and palettes that we feel will work with the design process.
Custom colors and sizes are our specialty, and working closely with clients is how we achieve good results.

Can you give me an example of something that inspired a particular piece of work?
Much of our inspiration comes from the natural world. We were on vacation in British Columbia a few years back and spent time on the rocky beaches playing with the long lengths of bull kelp that flowed up on the shores making interesting shapes and designs in the sand.It washed up and held onto other surf side stuff. We got inspired to create a large sculptural wall piece that flowed over a long 16 foot wall as the entry wall of a newly built condo in downtown Asheville; 60 N Market Street.

How have you changed as a consequence of your work?
Working my whole life in craft and as a craft artist has given me the greatest gift; self employment.  It has given me the freedom to work and play when inspired. Now I am able to  give back to the craft community through mentoring and volunteering.

How is your work integrated with the community?
We have worked with art consultants and designers who have gotten our work in several corporate and commercial  establishments around the state and nation. We also had a stint as artists in the Arts in Embassies program which loaned our pieces to foreign countries and ambassadors’ homes.
As members of the Southern Highland Guild since 1983, the craft community has always been an inspiration and resource as we grew into seasoned craft artists.

What’s the most rewarding part about your work?    
I am rewarded  every day getting to walk to work; to my little studio nestled in the woods. Even when the demands of marketing, deadlines or material shortages show up, I can always stop, breathe a little deeper and say “ how lucky are you creating and sharing work I have made myself. “

HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Sue Grier


1. Why or how did you choose your medium? 

A few years after college, I wanted to start a small, part-time, creative business (we had 2 small children). I had taken a couple ceramics classes as an undergrad and loved working with clay—especially throwing. I had an opportunity to work out of a private studio in Columbia, SC with a potter named Mary Ann Wardlaw—so rather than painting (my original background), I started a pottery business. The flexibility worked well around family needs.

2. Could you talk a little about why you love what
you do? 

CLAY CLAY CLAY  It’s really all about that.

Working with clay is very ‘process oriented’—that’s the attraction. I work primarily from wheel-thrown components. I’m only half teasing when I say that the clay keeps a person ‘centered’. Beyond throwing, as mesmerizing and meditative as that can be, there is the quality of mark making and creation of form. Having worked with clay for over 20 years, I have a decided interest in the problem solving inovlved with making complex forms or pieces. What fun to test one’s skills against this ornery & willful material.

Beyond the creation of interesting clay pieces is the challenge of glazing and firing the work to best advantage. I have enjoyed working in a variety of firing types: oxidation, reduction, soda and wood fired. Each of these offers a unique surface for a ceramic artists’ use.

3. Do you have any other creative pursuits? 

I always thought I would be a painter—I even had 3 yrs towards a BA in Painting. I don’t paint very often now, but a fun project I’ve done the past 2 years is take part in the Potter’s Pallette, a fundraiser for the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove. I also love printmaking (I did quite a bit in grad school). The past 2 yrs, I’ve been learning Ikebana (the art of Japanese flower arranging). Most recently, I have taken some classes to make needle-sculpted dolls.

4. How long have you been working in your medium? 

I set up my clay studio in 1984. From 2002-2004, I attended Graduate School at Clemson University (MFA Ceramics) and taught there part-time for the next 6 yrs. Back to full-time studio in mid-2010 here in Asheville.

5. What would you say informs you work? 

As an artist, my work has grown to embrace the vessel through my previous involvement and understanding of more traditional functional pottery forms. I maintain a desire to make the work “functional”, yet the definition of function has evolved to embrace the utilitarian as well as the intellectual or conceptual aspects of the term. The clay vessel used with the idea of embodied learning has allowed layers of information to be included in these pieces. Ideas that keep recurring in my work involve the passage of time. At one point, the idea of time passing in front of me – and now moving to a broader revelation of how I am moving in time-based phases – as are we all. I enjoy the use of the ceramic vessel in this exploration for the range of forms, the associations and metaphorical uses they have and the ability to take advantage of ceramic processes (mark making, glazing, firing, etc).

6. Who or what are your major influences? 

Some influential clay artists include—in no particular order —Betty Woodman, Peter Voulkos, David Shaner, Byron Temple, Ron Meyers, Bruce Cochran, James Lawton. Other artists who inform my thinking on art include Mark Rothko, Andy Goldsworthy, Antonio Gaudi, Martin Puryear, and of course Dr. Seuss.

7. What is the most challenging thing about working in your medium? 

Clay has opportunity to fail in at least 3 different ways beyond the ‘idea’ stage: while working with the wet mud, during the drying & bisque firing, and during the glazing & glaze firing. There are technical & creative decisions in tackling each of these areas and succeeding.

8. Any words of wisdom for those starting out? 

Be prepared to put in your time to get really familiar with your medium. Become an ‘outlier’ (think of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers). And dig deep for your own voice. Explore your influences & inspirations, traditional & contemporary sources. What will set you apart will be your unique experiences/interpretations layered into your creative work.

9. When did you decide to become an artist and why?

My parents started getting me drawing & painting lessons when I was in 6th grade. Thanks Mom & Dad! I also had a very wonderful art teacher in Junior High School. I never thought of doing anything else but art. It was a surprise, looking back, that it has been as a ceramic artist rather than as a painter.

10. What’s your design process like? 

In the years since my MFA, I have been more interested in how/where the work I choose to make will be placed/used. For example, one of my favorite pieces was designed to ‘fit down the middle of a long dining table in a spacious room. I knew the piece needed to be of a certain scale to succeed. The resulting piece was a long & low fluid footed vessel. When actually working on the piece, I don’t start with drawings, rather I work directly with the clay—problem solving as I go.

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HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Mary Carol Koester


When did you decide to become an artist and why? 

I always wanted to be an artist, however, my brother, Greg, was the artist in our family.  I watched him for a long time believing I didn’t have the gift.  Later in life, I started exploring decorative paper arts, creative journaling, and took an occasional drawing class.  When I had time on my hands, I got serious about art work and started studying basic color theory, drawing, calligraphy, marbling and book making.

Why or how did you choose your medium? 

I took my first book binding class from a close friend.  Her enthusiasm for the craft made me take another class.  I loved the materials and the feel of a book in my hands.  I was very interested in the skills required for book making.  I joined a wider group of friends who were interested in starting a bindery.  Things took off from there.

Could you talk a little about why you love what you do? 

Books are beautiful and useful.  A book has to move, it has to stay together. After mastering the technical skills, the creative process can be applied in endless ways.  Binding also involves sewing and I love fashion.

What is it about your work that brings you into the studio every day? 

I like being around all the tools, tables, cutters and bolts of book cloth and, of course, I enjoy making books.  After working out a design, I begin to make measurements, cut the board, the cover material, and the decorative end sheets.  I like the quiet, steady engagement which is built into something handmade.

How long have you been working in your medium?

I’ve been working as a book artist for over a decade.

What’s your design process like? 

I often start outdoors interpreting the emotion of the seasons.  I walk in the woods or around a lake and note the combinations nature prescribes.  I’m often surprised by what I find.  I sketch design shapes and turn them into printable artwork.  I reproduce shapes I like and collage them together.  I look for how things change

Can you give me an example of something that inspired a particular piece of work?

I saw a vine with dark green leaves and an opalescent blue berry. I wouldn’t have thought to combine these colors but they were lovely together.  I passed a black walnut tree losing its leaves in the fall.  At a point, all that was left hanging from the linear branches were round blackened walnuts.  The shapes translated into a printed design.

Does the region inspire your work? 

Yes, very much so.  I grew up and went to college in the northern Appalachians and now live in the southern Appalachians.  A career in forestry put me in the woods for many years.  There, I learned to observe and notice the subtle things, like color differences in the bark of trees, grays, brown, even silver and copper.   I recently completed the Report Card on Forest Sustainability in Western North Carolina which led me to an even greater understanding of the history and culture of Western North Carolina.  I remain interested in our region’s natural, cultural and economic resources.

How have you changed as a consequence of your work? 

I have changed as a result of being a professional artist.  I’ve learned that creativity takes time.  You can’t plan it or compartmentalize it like many things we do in life.  You have to approach it from the side not directly.

What is the path to growing as an artist? 

For me, it is fundamentally about trying to do my best and hoping others take pleasure from my view of things.  Equally important is working from my intuition rather than my intellect.  This helps me grow as an individual and an artist.

How is your work integrated with the community?

The pieces I make are used to strengthen memories and are a vehicle to better knowing ourselves.  They are meant to be filled with pictures and thoughts and shared with others.  Through my work, my own participation in the community has broadened.  I have an even greater appreciation for all things handmade and what a commitment that is.  I see the community as having a high talent quotient, much of it available to all.

What is the most challenging thing about working in your medium?

Patience versus speed.  It’s always a challenge.

Any words of wisdom for those starting out? 

Learn well and expand your influence.

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CSA: Community Supported Art!

February 27, 2013

We are so excited here at HandMade about this new business incubator program, and apparently, so is the Mountain Xpress! Click HERE to see the write-up online…

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Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy seasonal food directly from local farms. With that buy-local spirit in mind, Community Supported Art is a similar endeavor to support regional craft artists and collectors.

We are seeking craft artists to launch our inaugural Community Support Art (CSA) program. Our local CSA program is modeled after the Community Supported Art project created by Springboard for the Arts and mnartists.org in Minnesota, where it continues successfully season after season.

Join us in becoming the first Community Supported Art program in North Carolina!

Vist our homepage HERE