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Conversations with Liz Lauter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Liz Lauter.

Hi Liz, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was 11 years old when my mother signed me up for ceramics classes at Ruby O’Burke’s Studio which was just a few blocks from my house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. In fact, Ruby’s was on Noe St and still is. I went there all the time until I graduated from high school. Ruby taught me how to throw on the wheel, calculate glaze formulas, and fire a gas kiln.

A lady came in the studio one day and bought lots of my work which she sold at her shop a few streets away. My mother was furious. We still  love to tell the story how mom complained that she paid for my classes, my clay, but then has to go around the block to buy my finished work at retail.

I always considered myself a painter though. Every Saturday morning were my painting classes (thanks Mom for arranging) from age 8 to high school. I focused on painting at UC Davis, studying the most with artist Wayne Thiebaud. I heard that if you threw a pot on the wheel in the Ceramics Department, they’d smash it. So I stayed away. Those were the sculpture Funk days and I wanted to learn how to paint like Chardin and Sargent.
There was a Craft Center on campus and I did my own clay work there.

But it all stopped when I had my babies (three kids in four years), then a fourth a little later. I had to juggle being a mom and earning to help support our family. My husband was doing agriculture research at the time.

Turning straw into gold is really what it is like making artwork to sell.

Fast forward, and I’m back in the clay, with a full-time job running a high school ceramics program and my own kids are all grown up, and I’m even a grandma. But still, having to share my energy with 160 students a day coming through my classroom.

It’s an amazing learning experience being a Ceramics teacher. First, the administration leaves you alone because they don’t understand how you can possibly do it, and second, they don’t want to get clay all over their nice clothes, so they stay out of your room. You basically have your own world. I learned everything that I was curious about by taking workshops, then I taught it in my classroom. We went from raku firings in our home-built kiln, to clay instruments, classic porcelain glazes, low-fire majolica, mosaics, printing on clay….. so much more.

Then it was time to retire which I could only bare doing if I could recreate some of my classroom at home. So I created a home studio, kiln, showroom and all and focused on Majolica because I thought my energy bill wouldn’t be so high if I stayed lower temp. I knew that I was taking all of my knowledge with me to use as needed. That was 2019.
This now is my “dream job”. I work practically every day, and often evening. I’m in a state of “flo” finally without kids to manage–all my energy is for myself. I have a business coach who I began working within the year before retiring because I felt so unfocused about my next career as an artist. Understandably, I had become a jack of all trades.

I divide my time between creating, making, selling, promoting, and learning. Rinse and repeat striving to improve at everything constantly.

I’m also now a grandma of seven grandchildren and they love to make art in my studio. But Camp Grandma is not year ’round, so grandma has time for her own work, finally.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The main early struggle is overcome now, which has been to let Life give me a chance to make my artwork so that I can develop and evolve as an artist. Financially the struggle to earn money is mostly under control since I now have a retirement pension, but I have to be prudent. I make sure to only spend what I have earned through sales. I’ve slowly added to my studio equipment with my earnings. I just purchased a clay extruder and last year a slab roller. I knew I had to learn all about the computer–websites, social media, Photoshop so I had tools to use because I certainly couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me.

Making sales is an ongoing struggle to juggle with art making. Online sales is hard work. I’d rather be making something with clay. I go through waves of feeling like this is not going to work as a business.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I wanted to be an architect when I was in high school. I love to build things and solve physical problems. My high school counselor’s reaction shocked me, “You can’t become an architect because women aren’t architects.” Why?” I asked him wanting to laugh at his unbelievable perspective (1972). He said, “It takes too many years to become an architect and also there is lots of math, so women don’t go into architecture”. Well maybe the math part discouraged me more than the sexist part, but the idea was shelved. I majored in Studio Art and Botany in college at UC Davis. Both are integral to my work now in clay. Working with clay as a sculptor and on the wheel very much involve what I love–to solve physical problems and create objects that are 3 dimensional.

The Tree of Life or Arbol de la Vida in Mexican folk art has been a constant source of inspiration for me as a decorative and historical form. I’ve focused on the subject of Adam & Eve in the Tree of Life and have created a series of works that combine hand-built structures, sculpted figures, botanical plant forms, colorful hand-painted glazes, and hand-worked glass decorative elements. These also are sometimes just fantastical candelabras that are over the top with decorative detail.

I use terra cotta clay and dip it in an opaque white glaze, then paint with ceramic colors on top of the glaze. This is a traditional Italian technique called Majolica. I import my ceramic colors from Italy because the colors are so vibrant. These also become menorah candelabras, which I have a niche business selling. The practical me, always wanting to make things to sell involves making fun large platters, candle stick holders, pedestal cake plates and other gifty things. My menorahs are part of my Judaica collection which have been featured at the Jewish Museum Gift Shop in NYC, the Skirball Gift Shop in LA and a few other exclusive retailers. They have said that they have not seen anything close to my majolica menorahs.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
My colleague, artist-teacher, artist best friend, Karen Meadows has always been my role model and muse. She has helped me remember to be an artist. My husband, David has put up with me and still loves me after 47 years of marriage. He has always been my rock and even likes most of my work.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
photos by Liz Lauter

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