A Story of Passion
By: Jan Morgan-Swegle
This story is about passion, passion for what you do and for where you live. Not many people know exactly what they want to do when they are 14, but Kate Waltman, the Leland Cultural Arts Center’s February Featured Artist, did. She wanted to work with clay and produce pottery pieces. Kate’s works will be on display at the LCAC,1212 Magnolia Village Way, Feb. 2-23, and you can meet her at an artist reception from 6-8 pm on Thursday, Feb 2, also at the LCAC.
Kate is also holding a workshop at the LCAC on Feb. 24 and 25, from 9 am to 5 pm on Friday and 9 am to 3 pm on Saturday. Day one will focus on creating large clay pots, using throwing and coiling techniques. Day two will be about finishing the piece. Go to http://bit.ly/3GzghGp for registration and fee information, or call the Leland Cultural Arts Center at 910-385-9891 for information.
According to her bio, “she talked her way” into the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center’s Pottery Studio in Millville, New Jersey, where she assisted for two years before she was hired as a potter.
She went to school but explained, “I did it backwards. I didn’t have the conceptual art training that the other students did. When I went to school, I had the business experience to run a pottery shop and business that many of the art students didn’t have, but doing it that way served me well and I was able to share that business knowledge as I learned the fine points of my craft.”
Kate was also a painter. “There is a level of accessibility that modern painting just doesn’t have,” she said, explaining why she switched mediums to clay. “You can take people to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York) but they might not understand it and then decide they don’t like it. Modern art can be hard to identify with. I wanted to create something that has enough historical reference, even if people don’t have an art history background, that they can relate to it. I want people to look at my work and not see a time period. I want them to see something they can enjoy.”
Kate is now a well-known artist who creates large ceramic works inspired primarily by ancient Greek and Minoan forms. Her pieces are beautiful, functional and done in the Art Deco style. Art Deco pieces are streamlined, simple, symmetrical and often geometric. Kate will often “pencil in” a design or stylized design/motif/pattern on hardened clay. She does not use a stencil, but does it “by hand and by eye.” Her work also contains “relief carving.” Using a “loop” tool, which is a small metal pencil-like tool, she cuts lines and removes the clay where the background of the piece would be to make the primary design stand out more.
“Art Deco developed into a very popular style of art in the United States and parts of Europe in the 1930s,” Kate said. “It has roots in the Art Nuevo and Cubist styles. The Chrysler Building in New York City is a great example of the Art Deco styles.”
Using local materials, Kate “fires” her pieces in wood or gas kilns to get the finished product. Firing in a wood kiln could take up to 7 days depending on the size and style of the kiln. Using a gas kiln, which could reach temperatures of 2400 degrees typically takes less than 24 hours.
Kate opened a pottery studio in Seagrove, North Carolina in 2010, and purchased the abandoned Triangle Service Station in 2018. She renovated the service station into a studio and gallery. “Seagrove is a wonderful place for pottery and creative people in general,” Kate said. “There are at least 60 pottery studios in 20 square miles. We have over 57 pottery shops, four galleries and The General Wine and Brew, which was the original general store, that was turned into an upscale wine bar and the North Carolina Zoo is just 20 miles from here. There’s lots to do in Seagrove!”
Kate loves to teach her craft. She wants to help the next generation of artists learn how to create art with their own hands and in their own style, but with a nod to the business of running a pottery shop and gallery. Kate hires artistic interns and gives them studio space to create their pieces — they in turn, work in the gallery one day a week and work around the studio. By exposing the interns to the business side of art, she is teaching them how to deal with customers, how to sell and how to understand and describe a different technique than their individual styles might be. It’s important to Kate to help others achieve their goals.
During the course of our interview, I asked Kate what she wanted me to stress in this article. She could have said, ‘check out my website and buy my stuff.’ She could have said, ‘spend money to come to my classes.’ But, she didn’t, Kate said, “I want you to promote the town of Seagrove. It’s a sweet little town, but it’s an aging town. Years ago, there were family-run businesses that continued because the next generation took over when it was time. That’s not as common now. This community has so much to offer in the way of art, I want young artists to come here and perfect their craft and keep the town going. Galleries and pottery places are worth more than empty buildings. It’s a beautiful place to live. I want people to know that.”
Kate also has a few other hobbies and work to keep her busy. She does “trail running,” sometimes running 20 miles in one session. “Pottery is a physical job,” she said. “You have to be in good shape!”
She is also a dog trainer; working with Southern Tails Dog Schools. Kate teaches positive training methods so that the owners can communicate with their pets to shape the behavior that best suits the owner’s lifestyle. Kate often works on commercial sets with animals as a trainer. You can see her own dog in Mohawk Flooring and Hoover vacuum commercials.
At the beginning, I said this story was about passion. And it is. How many of us can say when we were 14 years old that we knew what we wanted to do for a living, and then did it? How many of us have really gone the extra mile to teach others and help them achieve their goals? And how many of us feel so passionate about a place that we would give up the spotlight for that place instead of using it for our own gain?
I am not creatively artistic. I can’t make a clay ashtray, but Kate Waltman’s passion makes me want to try. Kate makes me want to not only make something, but make it beautiful for others to enjoy.
Think about taking a trip to Seagrove. It is a special place to Kate and many other artists. It sounds like a place where dreams can come true. According to the website, www.discoverseagrove.com, “The Town of Seagrove is considered, ‘The Handmade Pottery Capital of the United States,’ and people visit from as far away as Australia, not to mention each of the 50 states. The population was 236 at the 2021 census.”
And while you’re there, drop by The Triangle Studio at 1140 NC Highway 705 and see Kate or give her a call at 336-267-1545.