For all of you who have faithfully read my blog to this point, I am sure you have realized that I have a deep passion for Interior design and for the wonderful artisans and suppliers that provide pieces to elevate our day to day experience. Imagine my glee, then, when I discovered Greta Michelle at a Linger: Supper Club event! For more on Linger, click here. After the dinner I made sure to follow her on her social media platforms, and it was there that I got a glimpse of Greta Michelle’s amazing pottery work. It was then that I decided that I had to visit her workshop to find out the inspiration behind her art, and possibly to share it with all of you, so that you all could get a Greta Michelle piece of your own.
BUT FIRST, DESSERT
Can I just gush about the way Greta hosted me for a minute? Little did I expect to be greeted with a delightful berry crisp. There was a warm base of mangoes and blue berries, topped with a crumbly, buttery amalgam of oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and pecans. To push the dessert to the next delicious level, Greta Michelle added a perfect scoop of an ice-cream and cream cheese blend, swirled with berry jam. I died with pleasure, then resurrected to continue our chat.
Greta attributes her introduction to working with her hands to the strong influence of her grandmother, who immersed her in various arts and crafts, mainly with the intention of keeping her out of the mischief in which she somehow frequently found herself embroiled. Her grandmother owned a parlour where she sold breads, tarts and cakes and her own mother sewed, so creative expression was not foreign to the household. Greta describes herself as being tomboyish as a child, with a love of nature and a desire to bond with the earth through exploring the bushes of Moruga and climbing trees. Her grandmother (who lived downstairs from her parents) therefore took her under her creative wing, and Greta was thoroughly baptized in various productive pursuits. She mentions that, in those days, there were community classes among the women in the village where all sorts of skills would be taught, like embroidery and basketry. Greta recalls an incident in which her grandmother got so exasperated with her shenanigans, that she supplied her with a crotchet book, hooks and other supplies and gave her the option to either be creative, or get the licking that she so badly deserved. In this way, Greta developed a healthy respect for working with her hands.
After straying from her craft roots in her teenage years, her art found her again many years later when she was picking up the pieces after the dissolution of her first marriage. Around that time, she started working at a Secondary school where a replacement art teacher was needed. Greta Michelle felt woefully ill-equipped to fulfill the role, but she rose to the challenge put forth by the principal. Greta recalls,
“She didn’t know that she was doing me a favor. She was blessing me then. I didn’t know that she was blessing me then….So I came home and that weekend I got some paints, I got a sketchpad…I got one of those little postcards and I decided ‘Let’s see!’. At the end of the thing I looked at it and said ‘OK!’I took it to the actual art teacher in school and she looked at it and she said ‘This is NOT BAD! This is actually really GOOD!’”
This encouragement boosted her confidence, and all the things that she had learned in her childhood became unlocked. She taught art for a year at that school, and describes it as the gift from God to carry her through those tumultuous times. That was only the beginning, however, as Greta Michelle soon moved on to get her degree at the University of the West Indies, where she was introduced to pottery.
“IT FELT LIKE HOME”
As soon as Greta Michelle sat at the potters wheel, she felt a bond. She managed to centre the clay and to be the only student to make a vessel worth keeping within the first class. She was at home. It was at this point that learning the way of the potter eclipsed her other artistic pursuits (she had developed herself as an oil painter up until this point). She describes her journey with pottery as a spiritual journey. She references a verse of scripture that is dear to her heart:
“Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.”- Jeremiah 18:2
For her, God uses the process of working with clay to mirror her own life journey, and to speak to her soul so that she can in turn speak to the souls of others through her work.
AT THE STUDIO
Greta’s studio is simple and unpretentious. An efficient structure stands outside of her home,and this is where all the magic happens. Her tools, wheels and biscuit-firing kiln are all to one end, and a lovely sample of her tea pots and bowls are displayed at the other end. Books of all kinds related to pottery and art are stacked above her desk, while her glazing kiln is outdoors. I smiled as I saw the layout, impressed with how resourceful she has been in setting up her space.
INSPIRATION AND TECHNIQUE
Greta is serious about her tea. This is due to the morning routine she had with her mother long ago . As such, she mostly creates an assortment of tea bowls and tea pots. Her surface treatment repertoire is replete with earth and sea tones, with textural applications. She uses soda firing extensively to achieve different levels of glazing to the outer surface of the pottery. For the speckled pieces, black volcanic sand is kneaded into the clay to produce the weathered effect.
Greta Michelle gave me a sneak peak into her next collection of pieces, which is a series of decorative plates meant for installation on the wall. The set that she showed me had not yet been biscuit-fired, but I could appreciate the detail in the design.
CURRENT PASSIONS AND LEGACY
Greta showed me a special piece of hers which she recently had on exhibition. It shows a woman crouched in a ball in the centre, while shells (representing other women) stand, either in indifference or in judgment of her wounds. The piece talks about how women can sometimes be each other’s biggest detractors, when instead they should be each other’s main support. With her own daughter in mind, she hopes that she can inspire women to support one another, and to build on each other’s strengths. This ideal greatly resonates with me, and I am proud to contribute to Greta Michelle’s vision by featuring her work.