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Connie Norman

Sequoia Miller – Artist Interview

Sequoia’s website: http://www.sequoiamillerpottery.com/

Sequoia’s Blog: http://sequoiamiller.wordpress.com/

Today’s interview is with Sequoia Miller he is functional potter who works in Olympia, Washington.  Sequoia’s work is beautiful and timeless.  When I look at his work I see so much history in the making of him pots.  His work has been included as part of the recent PBS Craft in America project and has been featured in Ceramics Monthly and Clay Times.  Before becoming a a full time studio potter Sequoia received a degree in Russian.  If you would like to learn how to make these amazing pots, you’re in luck he is teaching a workshop next month at Oregon College of Art & Craft.  Check his blog for details.

Tell us a little about yourself!

I started making pottery when I was a kid, but only realized it was intensely complex and engaging after I had finished college and started working. For me making pots is, at it’s core, a meditative process exploring basic aspects of being alive – sustaining our bodies, how things look, what it feels like to move and hold things. I simply enjoy the process of working with clay and try to keep all the other stuff at bay.

How did you become an artist?

The center of this question is the notion of becoming. When I was 20 someone told me I was a ‘wonderful person becoming’. It took me years to understand this: that we are not one thing, or even a series of things, rather we are always becoming, as a verb.
I think people, myself included, who identify as artists (or potters, or craftspeople) have either a greater sense of urgency around making, or the circumstances in our lives have led us to believe that it is possible to devote ourselves to it. Again, when I was in my early 20s I decided I did not want to work for 25 years and then retire to make pots. So I set about structuring my life so I could spend my time making things. The identity of artist is incidental.

How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

For me style is an outgrowth of self-reflection, rather than something you decide upon. I wanted for a time to make rustic crusty pots but that is simply not how I see the world.
I feel it’s important to notice, in a deep way, what you are attracted to- objects, colors, shapes, sounds, experiences – and then to honor that sensibility. This is sometimes very hard, a lifetime’s work. I was attracted early on to mingei, or Japanese folkcraft, and the attendant philosophies of direct, handmade, rustic work. Over the years I’ve noticed my pots have become sharper, more poised and urbane. This is fine, it is an expression of me, I do not need to make ‘orthodox’ Leach-inspired pots. I think of my work as Mingeisha – mingei with a queer twist.

What is your inspiration for your pieces?

Anything, really. Lately it’s buildings, and the light in the forest. Or maybe I am the inspiration for my pieces: myself as the thing that distills sensory experience into pottery.

What keeps you motivated?

Well, I really like just making things, so that’s a huge motivation in itself. I am a bit of a worrier, but I do not seem to have anxieties about what to make or motivation. That’s one example of craft being an excellent carrier for one’s creativity: it offers parameters without dictating rules.

Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

I am a full-time studio potter. Everything I make starts on the wheel, then many pieces get altered, or taken off-round. The dreaming up, or design process, is integrated with the making – this is another asset of working in a craft medium. I do not have to design a mug, then make one thousand of them. Rather, I make six mugs, look at them, notice what I like or do not like, then make another six, either right then or maybe months later.
I do use a sketchbook to help facilitate this, either to remember where I left off with a given form or to work through some of my questions on paper without investing the time to make lots of objects.
My pots almost always come out of the previous pots I’ve made. That is, the handle of a pitcher will give me an idea for a knob on a jar, which will become the foot of a bottle. In each iteration the knob/handle/foot changes the way I see the body of the pot and in turn opens up new possibilities.

What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?

I’ve always liked making things, but if anything triggered it, it would be a summer I spent as an assistant in a ceramic studio right after graduating college. It was at Snow Farm in western Massachusetts where they have an art camp of sorts for high school students. I was just really fun to be in a studio all the time and I liked the collegiality of craftspeople. When I went to work at an office after that, it felt like a really poor fit, and I sought out another clay studio.

What or who inspires you?

Hmm…Kasimir Malevich, my partner, the woods in the Northwest, other pots (mostly older), stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, modern dance, drag culture, solitude…

How do you manage being a Father and artist?

This is a really hard one, and it’s different for every person. I had found something of a balance, then becoming a father a year and a half ago has completely changed that. I am still trying to figure out how to make things work, so i feel like I don’t have a lot to offer in the way of advice! It seems organization is key, as well as just letting things happen that are out of your control, being flexible.

You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

I’d say do not shift you anxieties about your work to the people buying it, either your own customers or galleries. You can only do the best you can, and you’re not in it to make other people happy, so while remaining completely respectful and courteous, hold your ground: make what you want how and when you want. If that doesn’t work for you economically, then make compromises to achieve specific goals.
Do not carry expectations about how other people will behave without communicating.
Always be on the look out for new ways to get your work into the world, and don’t take it personally if something doesn’t work out (i.e. rejection).
One does have to be organized and consistent on the business side, and it takes a bit of effort to design your own system so that you don’t miss deadlines, etc., but it’s do-able.

What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

Keep working, don’t look around at other people and compare yourself, and try to train your ear to what really moves you as an individual.

Thanks Sequoia, for taking the time to answer a few questions!!!

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