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Meet Katarina Stiller

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katarina Stiller.

Katarina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My story starts buried behind other stories. The words of Gaiman, Funke, Pratchett, Tolkien, Rowling, and more definitely helped me get through grade school. Books have made for fantastic and thought-provoking armor–though maybe they also made it easier to avoid making my own marks in life. At CSULB, I bounced around a bit, taking copious notes in Marine Bio, German, and Marketing before putting down more substantial roots in Ceramics (while keeping the library my port of call through it all). With Ceramics, I made lots of different things and learned even more.

Most importantly, I found the most incredible, bizarre, encouraging, hopeful, stubborn, and daring family there. They inspired and pushed me to the point in my life where I properly wanted to get started making marks and taking steps along the road. So, I graduated. I then got hooked on art conservation. I’ve been steadily gaining experience in this wondrously intricate field in a few different cities so far (San Gabriel, Los Angeles, Swindon, Arcadia…). It’s been a real page-turner for me to say the least, and I’m excited to keep forging ahead. I do still play in the mud. There is nothing quite like the feeling of opening up a kiln for the first time. I make and sell artwork from where I live in Orange County when I’m not out conserving art. Balancing out my interests and having them work with one another to reach longer term dreams and goals has been key to my own sanity and growth.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t really felt like a road exactly since that should be taking me to a particular destination. It’s just been zigzagging and meandering along moorland with things emerging and retreating into the mist. I feel like I’m my own worst enemy: my own anxiety, self-doubt, and stubborn need for perfection all keeping me stuck stumbling over myself. As someone who really appreciates detailed instructions, not having been given a map to my life’s road trip has been extremely frustrating and terrifying.

Only more recently have I started to realize that it’s far more interesting to focus more on who and what’s in the car with me as well as what I can realistically see before me. Acknowledging all of the skills and lessons that I slowly yet inevitably pick up along the way as well as celebrating and supporting the journeys that my friends and family are creating for themselves alongside me, makes reaching more distant goals seem less daunting and more attainable.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m an art conservator and an artist. I take things apart and put them back together again.

As a conservator, this more specifically means that I study to understand an artwork (how it was made, what is it made out of, what is its history, how can its story and purpose best be honored today, etc.) and then work to conserve the artwork (through treatment, rehousing, disaster planning/response, documentation, or community engagement, to name a few).

As a ceramicist, this more literally involves slicing up clay pots I made but didn’t quite like and then stitching them back together differently to “fix” them.

I’m most proud of and humbled by getting to be privy to the massive and diverse network of people and operations that make art happen. I love all of the stories that get layered onto an object as it’s passed around between makers, collectors, sellers, installers, curators, conservators, administrators, visitors, lovers and haters; and I also love all of the stories that get peeled back after taking a good hard look. It’s cool to see the effect art can have on others, especially if it’s something I made myself or helped conserve.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The moment when I realized I was exactly where I wanted to be and was headed along a career path that made me giddy with excitement. I was inching along the 405, to go clean 200-year old book pages with tiny cosmetic sponges, grinning like an idiot.

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