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Rising Stars: Meet Zoe Willard of Sabillasville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zoe Willard.

Hi Zoe, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I started making pottery in my first year of high school by taking a ceramics class, as it fulfilled an art credit that I needed to graduate. I was never really invested in the class and didn’t take much pride in my work. I also did not consider myself to be an artistic person. The following year, I decided to take the next level of ceramics offered. That year, a new teacher taught it, which changed things for me. The new teacher motivated me in a way I had never felt before towards art. She inspired me to push my limits, try new things, and think outside the box. Ultimately, she helped me believe I was an “art person.” Since taking her class, everything changed for me; every year throughout high school, I took the next level of ceramics that were offered. After high school, I attended Frederick Community College (FCC), where I continued taking ceramic classes and spent all my free time in the pottery studio covered in clay with other artists. From time to time, my colleagues would suggest that I sell my work, but I never put any thought into it and laughed the idea off.

During my second year at FCC, classes shut down due to the pandemic and I lost access to the pottery studio. I knew I couldn’t spend all my time at home doing nothing and wanted to get my hands back in clay, so I decided to make a small studio in my house. I ordered my wheel and kiln and waited for them to be delivered; after months of waiting, my home studio was finally complete, and I started making pottery again. About 6 months after getting settled in with my home studio and back into the swing of making, I opened my Etsy shop, Pottery by Zoe, in March 2021. Since then, I have been making pottery and selling it on Etsy and a few in-store locations. I want to set up at more art shows and markets in the future. As well as making pottery, I attend Hood College in Frederick, full-time pursuing a degree in Art Education, which I hope to use to foster the same sense of creativity among students as my high school ceramics teacher did for me.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
When you start making pottery, a common phrase is, “pottery is humbling.” And believe me when they say that they are not kidding! To say the road has been smooth would be a lie. I do not think I was naturally given talent with clay, but instead was persistent enough to keep going and push through the hard times to get where I am today. I have learned from the obstacles I have faced and am still learning more daily. One of the first major setbacks I recall was in high school, where I sculpted a large owl for a special outdoor raku firing. Long story short, the sculpture did not make it through the first firing and couldn’t be used in the raku firing. I was very upset; I invested a lot of my time in that piece for it to ultimately break apart in the kiln due to the base being too thick, which was my fault. Following that, I decided that I still wanted to have a piece for the raku firing, so I spent the whole class working to make a smaller owl sculpture and being more considerate of the thickness of the piece, which ultimately ended up working out, besides obstacles like that, where a piece explodes in the kiln. There is a lot that can go wrong with pottery. It is a long process with many areas for errors when I shifted from being in a public studio to my studio. There was a lot for me to learn about firing, loading a kiln and how to address the problems I was experiencing. It is all a learning process, and I’m learning something new and improving daily. And although nobody likes to struggle or have setbacks, if I didn’t experience those struggles, I do not think I’d be as appreciative and proud of where I am today.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Most of my work is wheel-thrown functional pottery, like mugs, planters, bowls, and vases. I do make some smaller items like necklaces as well. In my work, I am heavily inspired by nature and frequently return to natural, earthy colors and designs in my pieces. Growing up surrounded by nature in the Catoctin Mountains and developing an appreciation for nature has impacted my designs and color choices as well. I am most proud of the improvement that I have seen in myself, it is difficult for others to realize, but when you work closely with every piece, it becomes easier to reflect over time. Looking back now, I still have my pieces of pottery from when I was a beginner, and I will look at them and pick them up and then look at what I’m doing now. I can see and feel where I have improved, and knowing that is enough satisfaction to inspire and motivate me to keep going.

What are your plans for the future?
In the future, I would like to set up more in-person events and markets to interact with customers more. Ultimately, I would like to develop more of a style for myself, but I think that is something I chip away at every time I sit down to make some pieces. I would also like to learn more about glazes and mix up my own glazes in the future instead of buying commercially made ones. I think that would also help me develop my style further, which I’m looking forward to.

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