Artisans Festival – Meet the Maker, Paul Steege

Meet ceramics artist Paul Steege of Sweetland Pottery.  You might have seen his beautiful pottery on the cover of the Union’s Prospector this week.  Paul and his wife Tina are one of over 35 artists showing at the 39th annual Artisans Festival, Thanksgiving Weekend at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center.   This holiday tradition features Northern California’s finest artisans showing original, hand-crafted art.  Meet the artisans and makers.  Expect to find the extraordinary at this show.  November 29 – December 1, 10am-5pm, $3 daily admission, $5 weekend pass.

I have always found joy in working with my hands, whether the material is wood, fiber, metal, or clay. It was not until I was in college in the 80s that I learned how to throw pots, whiling away many hours in the University of Vermont Pottery Co-op. In 1993, after having moved to the Sierra foothills, I resumed the study of clay with Francesca Roveda, who not only helped me develop my skills, but also introduced me to the possibilities of making a living as a studio artist.

In 1995 my wife, Tina, and I started Sweetland Pottery, making pots in a little studio adjoining our home and taking them around to craft shows on the weekends. I did all of the wet clay work, while Tina glazed and fired the ware in electric kilns. In about 2001, after moving to a new location, a new gas kiln was built. At this time I took over all of the studio work, though Tina continues to support me, handling administrative tasks, bookkeeping, traveling to shows with me, and sometimes assisting in kiln loading.

My current line of high-fired functional porcelain ware includes cups, bowls, teapots, soup tureens, storage jars, and various table items. I also make complete dish sets to order. Most pieces are made on the potters’ wheel with subsequent alteration techniques, and some pieces are constructed from clay slabs. The ware is fired to cone 10 (about 2300 degrees F) in a gas kiln. My glaze palette includes traditional Asian-style glazes, such as a smoky gold shino, a fluid wood-ash glaze, and a rich dark temmoku. Many of my pieces are distinguished by handles I make from manzanita twigs I gather on my land in the Sierra foothills. This softer wood element compliments the hardness of the ceramic forms. I work to find a balance between precision and happenstance. I am also trying for a fluidity of line and surface that porcelain lends itself so well to.

Although my work reflects forms and textures in nature as well as qualities I have seen and admired in the creations of people, I believe that my pots possess a style that is an expression of who I am and what is important to me. Values I strive for include simplicity, integrity, and beauty. It is my hope that these values are imparted to those using this pottery.

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