It’s a cold February day and Rachael Kroeker is in her Arlington Street studio, pouring slip cast clay into plaster moulds. She skillfully trims the excess clay from the rims of cups that have already started drying. The smudges of dry clay and plaster on her work apron map the process that she has done many times before…adding a new cup to the handmade movement.
The marbling technique that she utilizes creates a languid liquidity to the surface of the grey and white porcelain pieces that form her collection of functional tableware.
“The marbling technique allows you to control only about 30 percent, because the act of working with clay, inherently means that you have to let go a bit”, says Rachael. Of course, there are techniques that she uses to control the mark making but there is always an element of surprise that is left up to the clay.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with honours from the University of Manitoba in 2009, she was selected to do a residency at the Medalta clay centre in Medicine Hat in 2010, before settling into a studio space in Winnipeg. Here she began developing her signature style. She says that graduating is “quite a humbling experience because you realise that you don’t have a studio, a kiln, or a clay mixer, and are not set up for the real world.”
As a student, she discovered sculpture and was naturally drawn to the tactile nature of clay. She wasn’t instantly good at it but thrived on the challenge of creating conceptual ceramics. Intrigued by form, negative space, the relationship between lines, and the power of repetition, she developed a strong skillset for the composition of colours and contrast.
Although sculpture has temporarily been set aside to concentrate on growing her business, it drives her passion for self-expression and challenges her to explore conceptual ideas.
“I want to elevate the Handmade movement.” Rachael Kroeker
The forms within her functional tableware collection allow Rachael to still work in a very conceptual manner. The marbling technique that she uses, came about after much research and testing, resulting in the purposeful choice of not glazing the outer surface of the pieces. The unglazed surface forms the relationship between the user and the cup. She didn’t want the untrained eye to be tempted into thinking the marbled effect was a glaze. The matte, sanded surfaces create a connection between the holder and the cup and encourage the use of the object. The relationship is not complete until the cup, or tumbler, or bowl is in that person’s hands and it is through this touch that sensation comes full circle. Creating the balance between function, comfort, and beauty is her ultimate goal.
Rachael believes that the beautification of one’s daily life is important and perhaps even the mundane act of drinking coffee can change when you drink it from a lovely, handmade cup. She poses the question, “Why would someone buy a cup from Ikea over a local potter’s cup, other than cost?”
Her answer to this question is to elevate the handmade movement by supporting local artisans and tapping into the meet-the-maker mindset. If people want to know where their food comes from, perhaps they also want to know where their tableware comes from.
Her lofty goals for the ceramic community in Winnipeg, are evident when she says, “I want a place dedicated to contemporary ceramic arts, in a way that elevates its appreciation.”
The Manitoba Craft Council’s contemporary ceramics show, Play, Precarity and Survival, last October, was the first real exhibition in Winnipeg dedicated to showcasing the works of contemporary ceramic artists and Rachael was proud to be a part of it.
The next cup in her artistic movement is to be featured in Ceramic Monthly, the leading magazine for Ceramic arts, to incorporate more sculptural work into her daily life, and to have a garden where she can also practise the handmade gardening movement.