Julie Wiggins – Artist Profile

Julie Wiggins describes herself as a functional potter, a seasonal potter, and a historical potter. She is widely traveled and has a particular interest in how people used wares in their homes in earlier historic periods around the world. Julie incorporates those discoveries into contemporary versions of functional vessels. Her work is considered and yet light and lyrical.

During my interview with Julie, I was struck by the range of her interests, and how she’s been able to blend a wide variety of experiences into her lifestyle and ceramic work. Julie trained as a dancer, for example. Just as she brings her interest in historic forms and designs to her pots, she also brings physical grace and movement to her work.

JTW: You trained as a dancer. Will you tell me more about the influence that dance may have had on your ceramic work?

JW: As a dancer I have a strong sense of how to use my body and especially my core when making ceramics. That has helped me center clay on a wheel, for example. I also associate translating the movement in making a teapot – like the placement of a handle or spout – with a perfect arabesque or a pirouet. When these things are in harmony it’s just right and you feel it and know it. Being aware of of the subtle parts of a form, the beauty of a lip or the foot on a form not being too thick or too skimpy, the balance and harmony of a piece, all these things recall my experience and training in dance.

My experience with dance also affects how I move around my studio when making pottery. I try to move my body from a station every 45 minutes, and within each station I am moving my body and stretching out my side body which gets short and tight when making pottery. I’m aware of the importance of me moving around because everything I do in my studio is so physical.

My training as a dancer taught me so much about the importance of practice, and creativity in my studio is a practice. It goes back to the discipline of practice in order to consistently achieve harmony – that perfect pose. Practice and staying after something taught me a lot, including that it doesn’t always work out.

JTW: How important is the interplay between precision and fluidity in your work?

JW: That interplay is definitely an extension of my dance and movement. I’m using precision in my work, using things like tape measures and cardboard templates when I make a large historical pot to guide me when I’m coil-building and pinching. I use templates to honor the shape that was formed hundreds of years before me.

Often these pots are such great decorative canvases. I didn’t mention this before, but I have a minor in surface design. I love textiles and surface decoration. I use combinations of repetitive geometric, meditative patterns and floral patterns around the surface of the pot, both of those really honor the balance of the parts of my brain – sort of the yin and yang of precision or free-form, open to space and grace.

JTW: You grew up and live in North Carolina. How important is the creative community in North Carolina to your personal creative work?  How do you stay engaged with other local creatives where you live?

JW: My ceramic career started in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was there for 20 years and I was part of a ceramics studio there. I participated in a group there called Thrown Together Potters. Three other potters and I started this group about 20 years ago, and as a group we show twice a year. We cross-promote each other, market & advertise for the group, we help work out glaze calculations, we get together for potlucks and talk out ideas, including what’s working and not working in our studio practices.

I moved to Bakersville, North Carolina, last year, near Penland School of Craft. I bought Shawn Ireland’s pottery studio which is a dreamy place to live and be. I came to Penland 25 years ago as a 19-year-old student and it blew my heart wide open. I had the opportunity to move back to this community, to be part of a group of creatives, where like-minded people support each other as a community of makers, from glass blowers to weavers to painters to a blacksmith. The support is amazing. Last fall, for example, I hurt my back and my community supported me. People help each other load and unload kilns, lend each other kiln shelves. It’s a really beautiful thing to be living in a community of people who are making a living making handmade.

JTW: You’ve had important relationships with mentors to you throughout your career. Do you have any suggestions on how other artists can find and develop similar mentor relationships?

JW: Those mentorship arrangements were formed by me saying “Yes” to things. Saying “Yes” to going to craft schools to take classes. Saying “Yes” to being a studio assistant to other artists at their workshops or craft shows. In those intimate situations beautiful friendships formed and many of those people have gone on, like Susie Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin who both live here in this area, to be huge inspirations in my career. Suzie was a woman making a living doing what she loved. She received her MFA. I hadn’t met anyone like that, nor a woman who kept her last name. So that was the type of thing that right out of the gates made me ask, “Who are you people and what is going on here?” Dan Finnegan taught my first class here at Penland when I was 19 and he is still one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. He really set the stage for me while I was here at Penland.

Bob Chrisco, who I met through the Saint-Croix Pottery Tour, is one of the most generous hearts and spirits that I’ve ever met. Any questions I ever asked were never too silly. He always pushed me and asked me questions that made me really want to make great work.

JTW: You have traveled extensively to study ceramics, including some graduate work at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute. Will you tell us more about your experiences and what you’ve learned in China, Europe, Mexico, Morocco, and Central America?

JW: Traveling at a young age, whether to study art and ceramics or for pleasure has taught me about the way people interact with each other, and how we use objects though time and space in those interactions. I’m a historical potter; I love history and I love connecting to an earlier time when people used objects in their home. What was important to them? Before a time when we can order and have everything immediately, what did people really use? I’ve done deep dives in China and Europe, going to Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, really looking and studying pots and how they were used – and how I want to use them today, in my contemporary versions of these historical pots that really inspired me at a young age.

The architecture around me, and the flora, have a huge inspiration on my thoughts. I’m a big gardener so anywhere I go I’m always seeing out a garden or native plants and trying to get an understanding and appreciation of the area. And it’s really the people I meet along the way that really influence my work and inspires the way I want to connect with people. To me it’s all about connections.

JTW: Will you tell us more about your creative process?

JW: I do sketch a lot. Everything around me is grabbing at my eyes. I take a lot of photos. I create a visual diary from me to pull from, whether it’s objects in nature I see or objects in space. I may just be taken by a form or a curve, and I think about that could play into a new vase form or a new bowl shape.

I’m a seasonal potter so usually I’m drawing seasonally and I’m making pots that you’re using in your home during that time, like a soup bowl for winter to berry bowls in the summer.

I have a huge ceramics library in my home. Books and books filled with historical pots that I pull ideas from. I encourage every artist to maintain a visual diary of ideas that are inspiring them, and thoughts on how to make them your own.

You can see more of Julie’s work on her website and Etsy page.

One thought on “Julie Wiggins – Artist Profile

  1. This is inspiring work, and an inspiring interview. Julie describes the importance of community, mentoring, travel, and the synthesis of these multiple influences. I love the contemporary turn on history-based forms. She seems to be a very thoughtful and sensitive artist.


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