I discovered the work of Martina Thornhill via one of my favorite Instagram buds (an incredible artist and woodworker), Ariele Alasko. The moment I saw Martina's ceramic pieces, I fell in love with the playful freeform edges and hand-carved original designs found within her mugs and planters. There's an organic flow to her body of work that just feels like home to me, so of course I'm totally intrigued by her and asked her a million questions. Herewith, a Q&A with the artist about her work, home, and inspiration.
How did you get your start in ceramics?
MT: Until three years ago, I had only taken one ceramics course in my life. The first time was through a community college when I was 18 and I was unbelievably terrible at it! I was too impatient with the wheel, too haphazard in my designs, and too random in my glazing. I was prolific, but it was all just so ugly. I didn't even think about trying it again until we moved to the East Coast in 2011. My husband and I were living in a small town outside of Albany and there was a pottery studio offering classes just down the road from us. I was new in town, didn't know anyone, and had some extra time on my hands, so I gave it another shot. I wasn't any better at the wheel, but my sense of design had definitely improved and it felt really good to work with clay again. From that point on, I was hooked. All in all, I've only taken four ceramics classes because I've got this stubborn streak that drives me to learn everything on my own. I don't mind asking for help when I need it, but there's something about discovering my own way to make things, my own tricks and methods, and I really love that. This is the same reason I choose to hand build as well. I've always sewn as a hobby and when I started applying those methods to ceramics, something instantly clicked for me. I could treat the slabs of clay like fabric, cut them into pattern pieces, and fuse them together. It sounds basic, but it was such a huge realization for me.
Where is your workshop located?
MT: I currently work out of my home studio in Chapel Hill, NC. Our house is super tiny and there's no room for a kiln so I build everything in my studio, then fire at a community studio in Durham. I've been selling ceramics as a hobby for the last six months, and now that I'm transitioning into making art my full-time job, I'm hoping to move into a separate studio space with my own kiln within the next few months.
When did you know you were destined to be an artist?
MT: To be honest, I've never really thought of myself as an artist. I was always a crafty kid and had vague childhood dreams of being a fashion designer, but I never felt what I made was special enough to make a career in art a viable option. I majored in Women's Studies in school, worked as a domestic violence counselor, taught dance classes, tended bar, and always treated my art as a hobby. I just couldn't visualize taking that leap of faith and fully putting myself out there, even though making art is what makes me feel the most fulfilled. It still seems surreal to me that I'm even trying it now, and there's no way I could have done it without the constant support and encouragement from my husband and friends.
What people, places, and things most inspire your work?
MT: Lately I've been feeling really inspired by minimal abstract art like that of Louis Reith and Lygia Pape, as well as the sculpture work of Mari Andrews and Kay Sekimachi. I am continually drawn to images of muted desert colors, geometric shapes, and balanced negative space. I don't always manage to display that in my work as much as I'd like, but creating objects reminiscent of these inspirations is always my goal. This is a little cheesy, but my husband Drew Steadham is a constant source of inspiration to me. He has such a unique view of the world and the best sense proportion and balance, so I always value his opinion. My friend Meg Adamson is an amazing multi-disciplinary artist and her aesthetic has had a huge influence on my work.
You've lived in a few different states in the US in your lifetime. When someone asks you where your home is, what do you say?
MT: This is hard question for me as my family moved around a lot when I was young and I've continued this trend as an adult. I currently live in North Carolina so technically that's my home, but when it really comes down to it, my heart is in Portland, OR. I spent most of my twenties there and am still very affected by my many experiences in that town, and the amazing nature that surrounds it.
Who are your idols in the arts and crafts movement?
MT: Ceramics-wise I love the work of Helen Levi and Ben Medansky. They are both so skilled at what they do, have a cohesive and balanced sense of aesthetic, and yet manage to retain a sense of humor that's visible in their work. I really appreciate when someone can be so talented but not take themselves too seriously. A couple others are Ariele Alasko and Jenn Goff of Takara Design. These ladies are two of the kindest makers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and their encouragement and support of my work really means a lot to me. Not to mention they both are amazing at their craft. I find their drive and vision truly inspiring.
What's next for you?
MT: I'd like to spend the next six months building my line and adding more jewelry to the collection. My focus is definitely shifting more toward ceramics as I've been really enjoying working with clay, but I can see more weaving and maybe some lost wax casting making an appearance soon. I've always had a hard time sticking to just one medium and I can't see that changing anytime soon!
Here are a few photos I shot of Martina's pour-over coffee set in action. Since arriving in the mail, this mug barely leaves my hands.