Student Kate Strachan Finds Passion for the Ceramic Arts

by Tamara A. Measler

Kate Strachan shows some of her work during last year's Central Campus student art show. Photo by Matt Carlin

Successfully employed in her degree field after graduation, Kate Strachan found herself dissatisfied with her chosen career. Her exploration of what to do next led to a pursuit of ceramics, and the success of that endeavor is evident in her latest achievement, a two-week scholarship for a ceramics seminar at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design, Kate began working on the INC label for Macy’s Federated. After moving to San Francisco, Kate designed as a freelancer for Banana Republic. But she “wanted something more” than the fleeting nature of fashion where “you designed a collection and wore it for a season and then it was done and no one cared about it anymore.”

While considering her next move, Kate attended a few ceramics classes, reacquainting herself with an art she had dabbled in briefly during high school. She found herself enjoying the work, and upon her return to Philadelphia, Kate enrolled in the ceramics program at Montgomery County Community College From this simple start, Kate slowly began building her future.

The scholarship to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colo., which she completed this fall, is the most recent development in Kate’s new career. Founded in the 1960s, Anderson Ranch is now an internationally renowned residency and workshop program for the arts.

Receiving a call for participants, Assistant Professor Michael Connelly, a former resident ceramicist and teacher at Anderson, passed the information on to Kate.

“It’s easy to recommend Kate because of her work ethic and her drive,” he said.

Kate applied for and won the $1,965 scholarship, covering all costs except transportation for the two-week seminar, “The Joy is the Journey.”

Explaining the theme, Kate indicated that the title and the workshop itself were “about the process you go through to get to the end result.” The ‘Joy’ comes from “all those late nights, struggles, things breaking, things not working out, just to finally have one piece that ends up being that great piece.”

Days at the seminar featured two ceramic artists who demonstrated their techniques and discussed their process, their hardships and their lives as artists. In the evening, Kate took advantage of the studio access to practice the artists’ techniques and apply them to her own visions.

The best aspects of the scholarship for Kate were the combined benefits of 24-hour studio access and the freedom to focus solely on her art.

“I work two different jobs and I go to school, so having studio time is really precious to me, and having that complete amount of two weeks in my hands where I didn’t have to think about meals, or working or anything, just giving all of my energy towards my work, was such a gift.”

The scholarship impacted Kate’s work and her outlook.

“Because I had those two weeks, I came back with better quality [work].”  As for her outlook, Kate said, “Being surrounded by serious artists helped push me to the next step of where I know I want to be and where I can be, if I can dedicate those hours continuously.”

Another important step for Kate this year was her three-month paid summer scholarship at Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a National Historic Landmark and “working history” museum in Doylestown. Her work there included learning the history of the organization while also producing pieces and interacting with visitors. Working at Moravian gave Kate the freedom to experience and appreciate the “real beauty” in the unique nature of each piece produced there.  As a result, Kate “loosened up,” moving away from her previous tendency to want her work always to be “just so.”

Kate’s future plans include the completion of her Associate of Fine Arts by 2013, followed by a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Ceramics. To get into an MFA program, Kate is prepared to “work a lot harder since I don’t have that background, that deep background in ceramics” that other applicants might have.

Her ultimate goal is to become a full-time studio potter, “someone who makes a living out of everything they produce.”  Her curricular and extra-curricular activities thus far make it clear that “it’s a very difficult life, stressful. You’re always trying to see what your next move is. I think that you work very hard, from morning until night, but the thing is I feel happy with what I’m doing.”

Kate’s happiness just may have something to do with the more permanent nature of ceramic art, in stark contrast to fashion design. A ceramics piece “has longevity, it is longevity, because if someone takes that piece and they’re using it as their coffee mug, it’s something that they’re using every morning. It becomes a part of their life.”

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