FriYAY Friends

FriYAY Friends: An Interview with Ashley McCleery

Happy FriYAY, my dears!

I'm off to #QuiltCon this afternoon, and I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. In the meanwhile, I'm sitting down with a potter friend, Ashley McCleery, and all of you-- FriYAY indeed!

Ready for a plot twist? I'm named after Ashley's aunt, Holly Anne McCleery. Holly lived with my parents for awhile way back in the day, and she's been family ever since. A few months ago, Holly shared a link to Ashley's Etsy shop. I favorited her shop, Mulberry Lane Pottery, she recognized my name, and the rest is history! I'm so glad we connected, and I hope y'all enjoy meeting her, too!

1) Tell us a little about yourself-- your family, creative background, other interests, etc. Well, I just turned 31 like two weeks ago and it feels incredibly old. So that's not super cool.

I've always had a love of making things. I love all things yarn - knitting, crocheting. I have dabbled in a lot of mediums but I spent a good amount of time in high school sculpting with clay. Sometime around my junior year of high school, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I'd like to try throwing pottery. It was just a whim, really. A curiosity. Her dad overheard our conversation and mentioned that he was a potter and would be happy to teach me. That little conversation changed my life. I spent two years popping in and out of his garage studio after school taking lessons and learning everything he could teach me. I made some truly awful pieces and was so proud of them. The feeling was greater than any other artistic process or medium I'd tried before. I was addicted. When I graduated, I pursued ceramics in college and graduated with a BA in Art History with a few real estate classes thrown in for good measure. Once out of college, I said goodbye to my time as an artist and pursued a career in real estate and finance (feel free to be baffled. I still don't know how that happened sometimes.) 

Somewhere in there, I met my wonderful husband, Greg and we got married. I moved to New Philadelphia to be with him and we bought a 5 bedroom, 100 year old house and laughed that we'd never fill it. Then we had 2 kids 16 months apart and filling it seems to have happened overnight. Our big house is now pleasantly full of the sounds of childhood. We've been married 4 1/2 years. Samuel is almost 2 and Nora is 5 months. Sam is my social butterfly. He loves everyone and everything. If you offer to read him a book, he'll bring you 20. He is curious and bright, careful and playful. Daddy is his favorite plaything and when those two get together, the world is a magical place. Nora Girl is more reserved. She's a mama's girl and isn't sure about anyone else at the moment. But when she's comfortable, she's all smiles and giggles, showing off all those chubby baby cheeks. She is also ticklish from the top of her head to the tips of her toes, just like her mama and will light up a room with massive peels of baby belly laughs over everything from her brother pouncing on her to a diaper change. It's magnificent.  

Greg has been my champion from day one. He found boxes of my old college pottery and scattered them about our house. Ugly, awful things I wished I'd smashed, he turned over and over in his hands and placed them gently on a shelf to be admired. He has supported me every step of the way and never once raised a skeptical eyebrow at how much of our disposable income goes toward new glazes or clay fees. He critiques my work from a non-artist's point of view which is invaluable when you're making functional art for consumers. He's my cheerleader and my best friend. I literally couldn't do this without him. 

Can I get a set of these-- one mug, one goblet??

Can I get a set of these-- one mug, one goblet??

2) What is your creative process? Hmmm, I wish I had the luxury of a creative process. Right now it feels like I do most of my creative thinking while I'm asleep and I wake up to realize that my brain has been chewing on a problem while I've been unconscious. It's kind of handy. But really, I don't get much time in the studio with two wee ones running around so when I do get a chance to play in the mud, it's more of a mad dash than a methodical process. Right now, it feels like it's more about stretching myself and trying new things. There's so much I never did in my formal education. I'm trying to flesh out my skills, throwing better, thinner, bigger and adding some surface decoration that hasn't been my usual style. But then editing and refining, focusing and perfecting. It's like trying to expand and contract at the same time. It's healthy though. 

I've also never felt that pottery was a particularly good medium to try to "have a message." My college professors always stressed that art was a form of communication and you needed to be saying something with what you were making. It never clicked for me. What does a soup bowl have to say about the metaphysical? Not much, in my humble opinion. Soup bowls are too busy holding soup to think philosophically. But I recently started a line of coffee cups that quite literally say things. They have quippy phrases about coffee and motherhood that I feel like might actually begin to go down the path of being a communicative medium. There's a lot to explore there and a lot that people can relate to. I can feel the nerve I'm touching, if that makes sense. Perhaps because it's my own nerve but people respond to them in a way I haven't seen with my other work. I feel like I have only just barely scratched the surface there and I'm excited to see how that evolves. 

3) How has being a mama impacted your creative practice? Well, you could say it saved it. I spent 8 years away from pottery pursuing a career I didn't really want. I didn't think I had the time, money or access to a pottery studio while I was single and working. I missed it but I was so busy, I didn't have time to dwell on it. I'd grown up and that was how life worked, right? I had RESPONSIBILITIES. 

My son was born in May of 2015. I loved being a mama. I soaked up the time with him and craved more. But I was exhausted. I couldn't remember what it was like to go to the grocery store alone, let alone sleep all night. I'm sure there are other mamas who can relate. I forgot who I was for a bit. I became this new person, this mother. I loved it, but I didn't recognize myself. I mourned the old me. Greg urged me to find something to do that would reclaim some part of who I felt I'd lost. I laughed and told him I didn't know where to begin and I'd rather sleep.

By Christmas, my little man was 7 months old and not quite so dependent on Mama for everything so when Greg asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year, I considered my options. I'd read about this community arts center online that offered pottery classes for adults one night a week. I put it on my list on a whim. It would be kind of fun to get back in the studio. Greg set it up for me and classes started January 11th. I thought I'd die from the anticipation between Christmas and mid January. I walked into the studio and it was amazing to be back. There was a great group of people working there and it was nice to have a place to get out of the house and talk to adults. I began working again and quickly transitioned to just renting studio space rather than taking classes. 

My work now is different than when I was in college. I've found that being a mom initiates you into this secret (ok, not so secret) sisterhood. There's a shared experience we all have and a universal craving for sleep and caffeine. There's a lot to cry over in motherhood but there's a lot to laugh at as well. I love to tap into that in my work. I've started a series of coffee mugs that speak to that universal motherhood experience. They're my favorite thing I'm working on right now. They're silly and let you laugh at the realities of what raising tiny humans looks like for a lot of moms. If I can connect with another mom with that wink and nod, I consider that a win. Every mom needs to know she's not alone. She's not the only one struggling. There's too much competition in motherhood circles. I want to be the voice that says, "I get you. I see you. I'm right there with you and you're going to be ok. Here - have more coffee." ;)

4) How is creative community important to your work? It is extremely important. I have found a wonderful little tribe of potters here in my hometown and a vast sea online. That interaction is vital to fresh ideas. I have learned so much from the potters I've been working with and researching. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a random Japanese potter online who I will probably never meet. I think my husband gets a little jealous when I talk about him with such awe, love and devotion. (It's cool...he's like 65. No worries, honey.) But seriously. Art can be tricky. People get possessive of knowledge and technique. There's a lot of competition. But what I've found is that there are also just as many people who are more than willing to teach and explain and brainstorm and fumble through this with you. And I love being that person for someone less experienced. I love sharing my knowledge and getting people excited about pottery. The more you share, the better life is and I'm convinced the better your work is. In teaching, you can learn things you've never thought of before. You see it from a different perspective or have to think how to explain it or consider a question and suddenly a light bulb goes on that never has before. Those are great moments.


5) What advice do you have for other makers along their journey? Start. Do it. Don't wait for inspiration. Don't wait for a feeling. Get in the studio or sewing room or dark room or wherever you work and DO IT. Work through the hard times. Make time when life is busy. Marinate yourself in other people's work. Cross medium lines and pull inspiration from textiles or fashion or photography or graphic design. Make goofy things. Make serious things. Play and have fun. 

Thank you, Ashley! After hearing about each other all these years, I'm glad we are finally getting to know each other. Your work is beautiful, and so is your family! Also, I love love love your advice to other makers. I also think "cross pollination" by enjoying work outside one's specific niche is incredibly important. Thank you for sharing! 

Have a great weekend, everyone, and y'all, be sure to visit Ashley on Instagram and Etsy!  For those of you attending, Happy Quilt Con-ing-- I'll be posting lots of pictures and (hopefully) videos to Instagram and Facebook, so be sure to follow along!





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