Potter and artist, Julia Claire, creates her reality
Updated: Jan 30, 2019
What brought you to the Carolinas?
Originally, I spent the winter of 2015 as a short term artist-in-residence at Odyssey Clayworks. I fell in love with the city, so when the director asked if I would come back for full term three year residency, I was elated! My boyfriend Micah Yaple, a graphic designer, and our two cats Cloud and Kind Louie, moved to Asheville September 1st of 2015! I have lived in Asheville for exactly one year now.
How has having a strong sense of family impacted you?
I am originally from Erie, Pennsylvania. Both of my parents own small businesses; my father a sporting goods store and my mother a hair salon. I definitely have their drive and hard-working attitude! We are incredibly close- in fact, I miss them right now being so far away! I grew up in a close knit family and community. It is an “everybody knows everybody kind of town!” Holidays are huge gatherings and my family still holds on to many traditions. My grandmother, who is Italian, made sure we grew up with that sense of heritage. Baccala (salted codfish) is one of my favorite traditions; it is part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve Italian dinner- my family serves it in a spaghetti sauce. I wouldn't eat it when I was younger but I LOVE it now!
What education and experiences allowed you to get to where you are now?
I received my BFA in ceramics, with a minor in art history, from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 2009. I then became the director of Clayspace, a community clay studio in Erie, PA for several years. That is really where I learned how to teach. It was all a whirlwind. I graduated college and a month later I was running a clay studio and teaching multiple community classes. The best way to learn is to dive right in. I learned that patience and kindness are the two most important qualities in a teacher. My studio was a pet project of the Erie Art Museum, so I was lucky to be involved in numerous grant projects. I ran several programs for inner city youth, at-risk teens, and also for immigrants. I used clay as a healing device as well as a welcoming device. My most memorable project was with Bhutanese refugees. We used clay as a way to grow and feel more connected in a new environment.
How are you applying your artistic skills now?
I am now a resident artist and studio potter at Odyssey Clayworks in Asheville. I actually took a demotion (so to speak). After running a clay studio for four years, I was ready for someone else to call the shots. I now spend most of my time making pottery and the rest teaching community classes at Odyssey.
How did you and pottery find one another?
I stumbled upon clay by accident. I was an art education major with a focus in painting. I had to take a ceramics class as part of my curriculum and I fell in love. I called home and I said "MOM, I know what I want to do with the rest of my life!”
How has your career presented challenges?
I think the major challenge with clay as a career is income. This is my first year committing to being a full-time artist; previously, I always had part-time jobs. This year I made it my goal to focus on my work and so far its working. Money is tight, but I think that goes with the territory. Being self-employed is challenging because my brain never stops. I think I work around 90-100 hours a week. Of course I enjoy most of it, but finding a healthy balance is difficult.
So you and boredom have never met?
I have so many hobbies! When people say they are bored, I just can't relate! I love being outside. I am a magnet to the sunshine. When I lived in Pennsylvania, I spent every moment I could at the beach on Lake Erie. There was a gorgeous peninsula there that had a multipurpose trail where I would rollerblade. Sometimes I would do the whole thing in one day: 13.5 miles! In Asheville, hiking is definitely my favorite hobby. After growing up somewhere relatively flat, I am intrigued by the mountains. I also love kayaking and floating down the French Broad River in the warmer months. Then there's cooking, gardening and working on my home; I grew up in an Italian family, so the pot of sauce has to cook all day. These are days I dedicate to putting decals on my work. I can do this from home while cooking and listening to music at the same time.
How does clay make you feel alive?
Well I think it's pretty obvious I am passionate about clay! There comes a time in everyone’s clay path when you have the aha moment. I had mine during the second semester of clay in college. It all clicked- I suddenly knew how to center and throw a beautiful pot on the wheel.
I think I threw 100 pots that semester; everyone got one for Christmas! I love the potters wheel. I think there is a whole spirituality complex behind it. The wheel centers me, and at the same time if I am not centered in my life, it's hard to throw a perfect pot.
How do you share your love for ceramics?
My students motivate and inspire me. There is something very beautiful in watching a person develop a love and talent for something. Ceramics isn't just about making objects to put out into the universe, its about building self-love, confidence and community. It's a journey into finding out more about yourself than you could have ever imagined. Without the community, ceramics wouldn't exist. I think that’s what attracted me to the medium in the first place.
What have you noticed about the Carolinas?
My favorite thing about the Carolinas is kindness. Especially in Asheville, where I feel loved and appreciated everywhere I go. I am a real person, and I am valued accordingly. I go grocery shopping and the cashier actually wants to know how my day is going; and the person behind me isn't mad because I stopped to chat, in fact they chime in too. Then somehow we are all talking about where we grew up. This is just a beautiful place filled with beautiful, happy people. If it's possible, I would like to stay here forever!
How do you like to vacation in the Carolinas?
My favorite getaway near Asheville has been Lake Fontana. We have friends from our hometown who, ironically, we never met until we moved to Asheville. They have a boat and take us “glamping." I had never heard of that before but wow is it a real treat! We boat to an “island," set up camp, and then swim and relax all day. There is really nothing more beautiful or peaceful!
Favorite outdoor activities in the Carolinas?
It is really hard to narrow my outdoor activities down, but I really love the Pisgah National Forest! The John Rock and Looking Glass Rock hikes are among my favorite near Asheville. Nature is my way to reset: beautiful views, combined with quite challenging hikes, are the best medicine!
What makes you proud?
My proudest accomplishments are when I get into shows. I am a potter who is trying to make a full-time living doing what a love, but I also want to feel like I am evolving and developing my craft.
It’s a hard balance to strike, so when my work is accepted into shows, alongside big name ceramic artists, it is a great honor.
Why is owning a color decal printer surprising to others?
Some people are surprised to learn that I have a color decal printer. If you're not a ceramic artist this might not mean much to you, but it does to me; it's my favorite tool! This printer is capable of printing full color images to put on clay. The ink in the printer has been replaced with ceramic toner (China paint). This is how I get the crisp images on my work. I always use temporary tattoos as an example, because the image slides off the paper and onto the pot when submerged in water. People ask why I don't paint or hand-draw directly on my pots. While I love both, I have shaky hands and I am also a perfectionist. It cracks people up because if you visit my home it definitely looks like a creative hippie lives there. But when you look at my work, it is very clean, tight and neat. Perhaps I love knowing that there is something I can control!
If money wasn't an issue how would you spend your time?
I would volunteer. I would volunteer everywhere! I would spend half of my time helping others and the other half experimenting and developing my craft. If I didn't have to worry about selling art, I would take more time to create without abandon! Oh and I would spend more time in my garden. I often ask myself, if I won the lottery what would I do with the money? Well, I would pay off my house, start a scholarship in my name at my alma matter, donate to charities, and buy a boat. You can take these things anywhere!