Opening up mom’s china cabinet or kitchen cupboard can be like walking into a gallery. Not all dishware is factory-made – much is handmade by potters who are artists just like anyone with a painting hanging at your local art show.
Alex Watson is one such creator, and the Kansas City-based potter’s work will be the focus of an upcoming pop-up exhibit Feb. 4-7 at Laramie County Community College.
Watson’s been making pots for most of his life. It began as innocently playing with clay as a young child, but evolved into something more serious when he was a junior in high school and used a pottery wheel for the first time. He instantly got the bug for the art form, which led him to study ceramics at Utah State University. After graduating in 2005, he taught ceramics classes and managed the ceramics department at a small school in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts.
In 2008, Watson moved to Colorado, where he lived and worked until 2013. Through several residencies at places such as the Carbondale Clay Center in Carbondale, Colorado, and the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute in Jingdezhen, China, he learned a variety of new techniques that expanded his creativity and challenged him to push his art further.
“When I moved out to Colorado, I didn’t have a wood fire kiln (like I used to), but through those residencies, I developed a body of work that was basically my reaction to not being able to fire a wood kiln,” he said. “You put the pots in raw, and the (wood fire) kiln basically does the decorating for you – clay reacts with salts and wood ash to form a glaze on the surface – so not having that available anymore, I had to find a way to make pots.”
He was also thinking about affordability and the environment, which led him to his current method, which happens to be the namesake of the LCCC exhibit: modern terra cotta. He’s found a clay body that uses less electricity, saving him money in an eco-friendly way that’s more simplistic, using fewer colors and less decoration.
His artist’s statement sums this up well: “My goal is to make a simple, well-designed object, a pot that is modern and elegant, yet still very utilitarian and user-friendly. The details of the pottery are key to its success. From the surface to the weight of the pot, I try to consider every aspect of each functional object. I choose to use terra cotta because of its warm tones, and when paired with slip, its warmth softens the colors. The small color details found in most of my pots are there for visual stimulation.”
Watson is now a full-time studio potter and founding member of the Kansas City Urban Potters, a group of ceramic artists who co-own a gallery/shop with a studio in the back.
He’s learned a great deal from working alongside his fellow Urban Potters, but he also learns while teaching aspiring potters.
“Teaching, in general, gets me thinking about the way I work and techniques I use,” Watson said. “Oftentimes with teaching, I end up doing something different or changing something up that I might not normally do, and it helps my artwork grow. … Everybody has a different technique, so they get to see a different one and get any insight I might have to offer.”
Watson will teach several workshops during his time in Cheyenne the first week of February, and he said he’s looking forward to seeing what lessons he’ll learn from the LCCC students.
LCCC art instructor Matt West met Watson at the Cherry Creek Art Festival in Denver and thought he had exciting work that his students would like to see, so he asked him to be part of the college’s gallery program. The goal of that program is for students to hear how artists like Watson make a living off doing something many at LCCC could see a future in.
“It’s to expose the students to trained professionals in their field,” West said. “It’s an opportunity to see and learn from those in practice and perhaps (educate) any interested community members.”
Asked what’s kept pottery interesting for him all these years, Watson said that creating work for shows with specific themes, interacting with other artists at home and at retreats, and, of course, being in the classroom have helped him maintain his creativity.
“Teaching is probably the biggest thing that keeps it fresh for me,” he said. “And retreats, which let you experiment … Sometimes when you have deadlines, you don’t have time to experiment and try different techniques, so I think those sorts of events really help to keep it fresh and creative … the production side gets tedious sometimes, so to be able to get those nuggets of creativity really helps for the work to grow.”