Creative Rebellion, a new, ongoing series from AU field correspondent, artist Veronica Darby, kicks off with a visit to the studio of Athen’s ceramic artist, Rebecca Wood.
“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is mans original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”- Oscar Wilde
What is it, (that inner drive?), that compels someone to repeatedly do and re-do something, with the goal of making it just a tiny bit better – continuous improvement – each time?
What is it, (that inner voice?), that keeps curiously asking the same questions, just with a slightly different emphasis – internal discomfort- each time?
Whatever or whoever we find ourselves having an internal dialogue with has as much to do with our experiences as it does our curiosity towards new experiences.
We are all familiar with the saying “the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome.” This is exactly what potters do on most workdays. Time, temperature, humidity, and how much coffee the potter has drank plays into the production of a ceramic piece as much as the quality of the clay. You can think you’ve done everything the same way as you have dozens of times before – preparing the clay pieces for a firing, warming up the kiln, and stacking them just right, and you have a different outcome. Burnt edge, cracked clay, or an imperfection in the glaze. Back to the rolling board to start again.
I met Rebecca Wood when a friend took me to her studio for a holiday sale in 2008. I was immediately drawn to her warm, familiar colors and friendly shapes that made me feel a feeling that I had never felt before…for a serving platter. Years later we reconnected at a local artist’s co-op gallery. Rebecca has always been looking for the good, the beauty, in everything. She’s found it, and she’s been producing it right here for 30 years. – Veronica Darby
VD: Where were you born?
RW: I was born in Richmond, Virginia, where my my dad was in medical school. When I was three, we moved to Smyrna where my dad set up practice. It was just me, mom and dad at that point. I’ve was raised in Smyrna, but my hangout was Buckhead. We were the first house in the subdivision. It was like 1,200 acres of woods all around us which I was in non-stop. I was either in the woods all day long or I was in my room drawing. Those were my two modes.
I feel so bad for kids now that can’t just roam and explore on their own. If I had been raised like that, with everything structured, play dates and moms, I would have been a psycho. Being on my own gave me untold benefits. And I just hate that children now will never have that because their moms are so freaked out because of the news.
VD: Did you go to art school?
RW: I ended up majoring in art, but at Suwanee they only had three art teachers. Plus, it was the type school that if you were in the Art Department, people thought it was because you weren’t smart enough to do anything else. I had three art teachers, two were bad, and one decent one, I was like, well, this isn’t probably gonna cut it. (laughs)
I knew UGA had a good Art Department. I just came on down here. It was at the right time, 1975. Between 1975 and 1985 it was just the right time when they had super bright artists coming….that was just insane. I was there with all these art geniuses. It was a great time to be there. I never wanted to go back to Atlanta to work because I saw how cool Athens was with all the artists and everything. I just stayed on here and never wanted to go anywhere else.
Eventually I got married and started having kids. When my kids were young, I was doing fabric design and painted furniture and all these different things I was trying to do because paintings had gotten too high dollar and there was the stock market crash, and paintings weren’t selling. So I was like, I’d better make something with lower price-points. I actually had a show in Atlanta in 1987 at the Swan Coach House Gallery in Buckhead and there were red dots, but the next day, the stock market crashed, all the red dots went away. So I started making lower price-point things, like hats, and jewelry and all this other stuff. But I wasn’t interested in pottery because I’d never been interested in pottery. Every time I went to a craft show, it was like all the pottery was dark brown and that horrible blue-gray color and I was just like, I don’t really get it with these potters, their color selection is just terrible. (laughs)
VD: Do you fire weekly?
RW: We fire every day. We’ve got four kilns that are already cooling off from yesterday and as soon as they cool off, we’ll re-load. There are different temperatures for different things. All these colors go to a certain temperature, those go to another. So, that is what it looks like before, when it’s got the clear glaze on the back and you really can’t see how pretty it’s going to be when it comes out of there.
VD: When they’ve got depth of color. What about these pieces over here?
RW: These are all waiting to get dry enough to load into that big kiln over there, which just got turned on. So it will be about three or four days. It just got started today so it will be about 24 hours then 24 hours to cool off. It’s like a two-day deal. As soon as there is enough more stuff that’s dry, it will all go in the kiln.In the summertime it is so hot in here they can’t cool off, so we have to do it every other day. In the winter, when it’s so cold, you can just come in here the next morning and open the lids, which will have cooled down. It’s up to like 130 degrees in this room in the summer. Out here, it only gets up to about 100 degrees.
This is where the glazers sit. They’ll get the actual order from the store and get all the pieces that have been made for it. They know all the recipes for our eighteen colors. They’re all hand-brushed on and it will be four to five coats of glaz, with all the layers that we’ve made up for these colors. After they get done glazing they bring it over here and just get one coat of clear glaze on the back and then they go sit in stacks in there and wait to go into the glaze kilns to get fired.
VD: What about this area?
RW: This is where all of the orders are waiting to get processed. Once the glazers. get an order finished, they’ll take the whole thing over to the packing area and pack it up. Out here is our retail area where you can come in and get store
Out here is our retail area is where you can come in and get our store quality firsts, and my wood-fired stuff. This is my nook, where I have all my one-of-a-kind things. And all the people who work here can make one-of-a-kind things off the clock and sell them here. This is where all their stuff is. We have a little tally thing at the checkout. The checkout is a little sticker with their name on it and we peel it off and every month we keep a track of it and they get a commission check. They get 70% and we keep 30% to cover the clay and the glaze. That way we have lots more cool of one-of-a-kind stuff and I don’t have to be the only one trying to make everything, trying to be inventive. And it’s fun for them because I don’t normally hire an actual potter. We train them, but they don’t have in their minds what to make out of pottery, so it’s more free with what they make. Everyone’s not just trying to make a mug and a bowl. (laughs) And they just learn what kind of things sell, what price range sells. It’s good because they learn their own marketing. One of my assistants makes these, they’re amazing, with the gold rim on there.
So everyone’s got their own little area with their stuff in it. And here is our seconds room. That’s usually where people make a b-line for because you mostly can’t tell what’s wrong with them. It could be that it just doesn’t sit quite flat, the colors are a little washed out or it has a piece of kiln chip or just a bubble.
VD: Small imperfections make it priceless. Really one of a kind.
RW: Yeah. We just recently remodeled this whole deal, painted everything, including the floors This is our promo center and book center.
VD: I still have a Beauty Everyday bumper sticker on my accordion case.
RW: This is from my first business, my cards. I had all these black and white cards, which of course nobody wanted because everybody wanted color. But now, they’re like back in style. I have shit tons of those. My first business was called Re-Beads and that’s when I made necklaces out of found objects and buttons and different things that I did before my kids were born. I had so many businesses.
Luckily, I had the making thing, too. When I made something I always in my brain went with selling it. Luckily, I’ve been able to do it and everybody likes my stuff. These flower pots are new. These are more high fire. Low fire pottery is so porous. If you put plant materials in these, the minerals come through the porous clay. The higher the firing, the more it squeezes out the air, and everything gets shrunk down. They are more hefty but water-proof, so things won’t seep out.
VD: I’m curious, do you consider yourself a introvert?
RW: A super-introvert, definitely, because all I’m usually at home. I don’t socialize. I really don’t have any social life except for at work. All my friends are younger with kids in elementary school, so they can never do anything with me. I’m so happy by myself, though. The more I’m by myself, I’m in higher states of ecstasy. It’s always quiet in my house. I like hearing the birds and crickets outside.
Veronica Darby came to Athens in 2009 from Cleveland, Ohio, where she left a reputation of hosting cool events while she owned and operated 5 venues that specialized in coffees, culture and conversations, to build a new one here. Her revolving perimeter cast of artists, musicians, comics, jugglers, magicians, dancers and storytellers deliver a good-time memory with multiple interpretations. She currently owns and operates Veronica’s Sweet Spot at while hosting Salsathens at Little Kings and comedy shows at various venues.