Maker of the Year 2016: Cathy Terepocki
Cathy Terepocki crafts ceramics that bring old-world tradition to modern whimsy.
In Cathy Terepocki’s world, ceramics is a practice without shortcuts. Her functional plates, bowls and jars are shaped on the wheel into forms she’ll hand-throw thousands of times. She’ll add in layers of painted colour, print, glaze and reclaimed materials throughout a four-stage firing process where even the tiniest rogue air bubble can send her back to square one.
“It’s definitely a laborious process,” says Terepocki, and yet it’s the demanding physicality that drew her to ceramics in the first place. “I liked the idea of learning a craft and really having to stick it out and put hours into mastering it—that was the appeal.”
From her small home studio out in the countryside of Yarrow, B.C. (closest “big” city: Chilliwack), the ceramicist mixes materials and time periods, patterns and geometrics, in a way that judge and interior designer Kelly Deck notes draws on the history of craft while being “totally relevant and fresh,” she says. “I’m very fond of her painterly approach to her plate series and her playfulness in mixing media with her clever pots.”
Born just outside Toronto, the ceramicist has been honing her craft for some 12 years since graduating from Alberta’s College of Art and Design, and yet each individual piece—a product of hours or days in the studio—belies signs of that time-intensive labour with designs that look at ease and full of whimsy.
In her Pine Creek series of bowls, mugs and pots, speckled oatmeal-coloured clay is paired with diamond shapes of 14-karat gold and loose, illustrative geometric patterns. She named the collection for the Australian town she briefly lived in after high school (she was working in a gold mine) and wanted to play on the craft’s long history of gilded ceramics and fine china. Embellishments typically found in the form of gold-leaf rims on fancy French porcelain teacups are juxtaposed with earthy and folksy handmade clay.
“There’s so much possibility with ceramics,” says Terepocki, “and I think by layering things like that up and putting them beside each other, it changes people’s perceptions of materials.”
The ceramics artist further tries to connect people to her work by layering in little hits of nostalgia. The chunky beads on her Mount Pleasant series are from string-and-bead kits, the kind she remembers playing with as a kid, and the wooden lids are cut from reclaimed floorboards. Bands and washes of hand-painted colour are present in every piece, as well as pattern. For the latter, she uses an old printer with iron oxide in the toner to transfer her designs. During kiln firing, the toner burns away while the iron melts into the clay, leaving the burnt-iron-brown print that’s become her signature.
Her more traditional and punchy primary-coloured Quilt Plate series draws on her background as a Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite. “I grew up surrounded by quilts,” she explains. “The main inspiration for those was hex signs that were painted on barns throughout Pennsylvania.” The textile-based pattern on her Buena Vista container series pulls a similar thread, a design that references Italian fabric design from the late 1970s, around the time Terepocki was a kid. Each vestige from the past functions as a strategic entry point to get people to “engage with it a little bit more than just using it,” she says.
As artful, detailed and time-intensive as her ceramics are, it’s in the seemingly mundane rituals of everyday life where Terepocki’s functional work shines. A morning mug of coffee, a bowl of cereal before bed, the sugar bowl you dip into throughout the day—“I like making work that’s celebrating pretty ordinary routine,” says Terepocki. “I like the thought of being part of people’s day.”