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Make It, Build It, Use It: Ceramic Artist Sandra Dalal

Pie from Killer E.S.P. on a plate by Sandra Dalal.
Pie from Killer E.S.P. on a plate by Sandra Dalal.

We love hearing about what Art Leaguers are getting up to outside of classes and exhibits. So we were thrilled to read about how an Art League ceramics student, Sandra Dalal, is creating handmade wares for Killer E.S.P. on King Street.

We asked Sandra to write a guest blog post answering one question:

Why functional art?

As with most things, it goes back to childhood. My parents were “makers” long before it was hip. We were from the Pacific Northwest and ended up in Alaska. If we wanted something, chances are we would make it. New furniture, make it. New clothing, get out the sewing machine. Cabin in the woods? Build it. Art and craft were always intertwined. Art was not just a creative outlet, it usually had an end purpose. But the end product needed to be worthy of our effort and hold its own both artistically and functionally.

“If we wanted something, chances are we would make it.”

Fast forward 40 years. Five years ago, when I decided I wanted to get back to art in a more intentional way, pottery was the only medium I considered. From my first class with Joan Ulrich, the magic of making a bowl was transformative! She was, and is, a great teacher because the technical aspects of the process are never far from the conversation. I so appreciate that both art and craft are important to the final piece. In my classes with Allison Severance, the functionality of each piece is often part of the lesson.

Handbuilt espresso cups by Sandra Dalal.
Handbuilt espresso cups by Sandra Dalal.

Another reason I was drawn to pottery is because of the tactile aspects of the finished piece. We pick up a mug, see how it feels and fits in our hand, turn it over and inspect the bottom. The rim of the mug is critical because it touches our mouth. Using pottery can be a very intimate experience.

When I won the Dennis Davis Award for ceramics in 2015, it was for a teapot. Functional and beautiful. My handbuilding teacher Carlos Beltran Baldiviezo encouraged me when I lacked the confidence to even enter a piece in the show. I was very surprised and honored to receive the award (and sell the teapot), and appreciated the affirmation at the same time.

Since then I have had other opportunities to sell my pottery. Killer E.S.P. coffee shop on King Street uses my plates for their pie. It is a nice partnership because I have an outlet for my work and Killer customers get handmade plates. I get to experiment with different glazes, and the owner Rob Shelton has a local source for pottery. He just asked me to make espresso cups for the shop. I have been working on espresso cups lately and was very excited. Now my cups will have a home! I love knowing that my work is being used out in the world. While they are functional, each piece is little work of art.

Mugs for Killer E.S.P. by Sandra Dalal.
Mugs for Killer E.S.P. by Sandra Dalal.

Since I started taking classes, I have come to appreciate the importance of The Art League in our community. I have seen how the potters work together to produce thousands of bowls for The Art League Ice Cream Bowl Fundraiser in September, and put on Artfête in December. Personally, the ceramics department has become important to me for the friendships I have made, building community and art at the same time.

— Sandra Dalal

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