Festival Focus: Meet Natalie

23 Jun
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The artist, Natalie Squillante, with her usual smile and some pieces from a recent Anagama firing.

Last Spring, I dropped my then 7-year-old and rather timid daughter off at the Jamestown Arts Center to begin a series of after school pottery classes. By the time the first class was over and I returned, she was hugging her instructor, Natalie, goodbye and smiling widely. With a very real warmth and overall positivity, Natalie, a highly practiced ceramicist, encouraged my daughter — and countless others before and since —  to feel completely at home in her classroom. Though she is dedicated to teaching, lately Natalie has been turning a lot of energy, time and focus towards her own art. She finds the time to paint, draw and make pots at any opportunity of each day. Under a new brand she has created called Nautaleye, her pottery is as distinct and genuine as the artist herself.

Festival Fete: What were you up to this past winter/off-season?

Natalie: I’ve made all sorts of funky connections through the Jamestown Arts Center. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with one of my favorite ceramicists, Chris Gustin, using his amazing hand-built kiln, in South Dartmouth, MA. One of the three chambers is Anagama, a Japanese-style kiln, and is fueled by hand with firewood. I prepare and create work for the kiln throughout the year. Along with a group of talented, dedicated ceramicists, we fired one back in October/November and we’re currently firing another. It’s one of the experiences in my life that I look forward to, build up work for, and put a lot of energy into. Loading the large kiln is truly a communal effort and the firing is about a seven-day process. We continually stoke the fire in eight-hour shifts each. It has really grabbed me by the heart. What happens inside can reflect what’s going on in the atmosphere outside. We fired during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the ash blew just beautifully. I may initially throw the pieces on the wheel — the pots, the cups, the bowls — but I think the true beauty really comes from the kiln itself and in the natural ash glaze that forms on each unique piece.

FF: What’s inspired your most recent work?

N: My inspirations have never really changed; they’ve been staples throughout my life. The things that shine in my mind are nature, plants, the ocean and elephants. I have a deep respect and admiration for elephants: their wisdom, their memory and their spirituality. Love, wonder, beauty, joy and meditation inspire me, too.  Each finds a way onto a canvas, a piece of ceramics, on a piece of paper or a wall on a very regular and daily basis. I’ll be donating a percentage of my sales to Hope Elephants, a small organization in Maine dedicated to the preservation and protection of elephants. It’s a lofty goal but I would love to have an elephant of my own in the future. Since I was a child, I’ve been sort of obsessed with them, but learning of a vet who was able to rescue elephants from harmful environments makes me want to have the space and resources to care for one myself someday.

FF: Does your work with children influence your creations? 

N: Working with kids will always be a part of my life and work because I’m not sure I’ll ever not be a kid myself! It’s a part of who I am. I love every moment of learning, growing, sharing, and creating with them. I share a similar joy, willingness, and enthusiasm to create and learn, with students and children, and that is something that I savor and find inspiring in itself. That energy and process is most influential.

FF: Can you share a bit about your process?

N: One of my favorite and frequently used surface treatments is called Sgraffito. After using this process while I attended Maine College of Art, I found out that it’s Italian for graffiti.  Basically, once I’ve thrown a set  of whatever it is I’m making (a few bowls, planters, cups, serving bowls) I let them dry to a very specific dryness in order to foot them. The foot is at the bottom of a pot and is a sweet, pedestal like feature at the base. Some are ornate and complex, while others are simple or without.  I then apply a stain or underglaze. Here’s where the Sgraffito comes into play.  Using carving tools, I then begin to draw onto the surface carving away the stain or underglaze and some of the clay underneath it. I find Sgraffito creates a playful yet informative and beautiful use of positive/negative, foreground/background, history, and expression. It’s the way I enjoy getting information, a story or image that I may be painting or drawing, onto a ceramic piece.

FF: Have you got a favorite piece?

N: I love each piece for one reason or another. Even if it’s just for whatever phrase or word I’ve written on the bottom, the happy mistake or magic that occurred in the kiln or the memory attached to the carving.  They’re all my favorites; they’re like people to me. Maybe I’ll have a favorite come out of the Anagama soon!

FF: What are your aspirations?

N: I’m attracted to clay, partly, because everything I make is functional. The Anagama kiln was used in the Japanese culture to make pieces to be used by the whole community, since it allows for large amounts of pottery to be loaded and stacked inside. I would love to get people to the point that they can throw their own pottery, so they can start to replace a lot of the junk — for lack of a better word — that we consume and accumulate. I’d like to sort of ‘mass produce’ in a handmade way, making pieces quickly and simply, yet beautifully so that they can be accessible and affordable.

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FF: What do you look forward to most about participating in the Newport Art Festival? 

N: This is my first Festival Fete selling work.  I was working with Art Is Smart creating and working with kids at the Creation Stations for past Festivals and I’ll be facilitating crafts at the next Festival Fete (at Emerald Square), which I’m totally looking forward to! I’m stoked to see how my work is received by the public. I love the energy of Festival Fete so I’m also looking forward to the overall feeling that it brings and seeing all the beautiful work that will be there. I hope it’s a huge success for everyone and for Newport.

With artists like this one, how can it not be? Natalie can be contacted through the Jamestown Arts Center for group and private lessons and for arts and crafts based birthday parties. She can be found at the Newport Art Festival this weekend as well as future Festival Fete shows. She can be reached on Facebook, as well. Natalie’s work is displayed at the Art Market at the JAC and she currently has beautiful soap dishes and mixing bowls for sale at Farmaesthetics flagship apothecary on Bellevue Ave. in Newport.

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