Fort Wayne potter Kristy Jo Beber is one of those lucky people who realized early on what they love to do, are terrific at their craft, and have figured out how to make a living at it. The thing is, that’s where luck ends and hard work begins.And Beber keeps hard at it. A recent visit to her studio in Leo found her at work on the first stage of the lengthy process it takes to create her signature stoneware pieces.
Those of you who have had the pleasure of seeing her pottery at local art fairs or galleries might not realize the long, slow tango between potter’s wheel and two different kilns that Beber must dance over several days to produce her finished product.
There is no getting around the fact that ceramics is an intensely physical craft. The clay itself is as heavy as liquid rock. It takes skill and muscle to push and pull a spinning hunk of it into an even shape. After being formed, the greenware must be allowed to dry to the point where it is firm enough to be trimmed and inscribed without ruining its shape. Then it must be set aside again to dry completely before undergoing a bisque firing. Incomplete drying can result in explosion of the piece at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
After this first firing, the cooled bisque ware is ready for staining and glazing. This artistry requires an experienced eye because the milky liquid ceramic glazes look nothing like they will after firing; the potter must envision the result. Once every single piece has been hand-decorated inside and out, all is strategically loaded onto shelves that slide into an enormous gas kiln. Everything is fired over several hours at temperatures that will reach 2,300 degrees F to produce exceptionally strong stoneware.
It can take Beber up to eight weeks to ready enough pottery to fill her large kiln for that one final firing.
We can now begin to understand the price difference between a hand-crafted piece of fine art pottery and a mug from the dollar store.
At the time of our visit, Beber had just returned from the Indiana Artisan Marketplace down at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds. There is more than just corn in Indiana, and to drive that message home Lt. Governor Becky Skillman launched a program in 2010 to recognize and promote the best of the best Indiana arts and crafts. Beber underwent the rigorous application procedure and last year earned the distinction of becoming one of the Indiana’s official artisans. The program appears to be a success; this year’s fair drew thousands of visitors and sales were brisk.
“I probably did better at this one show than any other fair in the past year,” she says.
It is easy to see why her work is so popular: beautiful shapes; rich colors; and fun, loose decorative motifs that bring satisfying textures and depth to the finished object. In fact, it is her method and style of decoration that says right away, “Kristy Jo Beber!”
Incredibly, she does all the graphic abstract patterning freehand with special little squirt bottles of glaze. “Yeah, well I’ve always been a doodler,” she laughs.
Not only is the quality of Beber’s work remarkable, her peers also stand in awe of her entrepreneurial skills. The girl knows how to market. In addition to booking more than a dozen art fairs each year, she creates her own promotional literature and maintains a website ( kristyjobeber.com ) and a Facebook fan page.
Most of the art fairs she chooses are major juried shows with scores of artists competing for limited booth space. Participation means hauling not only all her pottery, but shelves, tables, display walls and canopy for a weekend bivouac at the mercy of the weather and the whims of attendees.
Undaunted, the enterprising Beber says she loves the interaction with people at the fairs, and the candid feedback she gets from them while presiding over her own retail booth.
In between fairs, her pottery reliably occupies sales space at the Orchard Gallery and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art gift shop.
And somehow she finds time to teach pottery classes at IPFW, where she earned her BFA in pottery in 2004.
“Between art fairs, working in the studio, teaching pottery classes one to two nights a week at IPFW, and working three to four shifts a month at the Orchard Gallery, I often go a month or more without taking a day off,” she states, while adding, “I’m not complaining, I love what I do.”
You can visit Kristy Jo Beber in her studio this Saturday, April 28th during the Rural Studio Tour which takes place in the Leo/Spencerville area and features a variety of studio open houses. For details search for “rural studio tour” on Facebook.