Local Potter Diana Kersey and the Nature of Clay

Diana Kersey with some of her ceramic pieces - COURTESY
Diana Kersey with some of her ceramic pieces
Detail of Kersey’s work on the Mulberry Bridge at Brackenridge Park - COURTESY
Detail of Kersey’s work on the Mulberry Bridge at Brackenridge Park
Kersey’s work on the Mulberry Bridge at Brackenridge Park - COURTESY
Kersey’s work on the Mulberry Bridge at Brackenridge Park

Diana Kersey was going to be an art teacher and a basketball coach but then she found clay. Inside the ceramics department, she discovered a community and an art form that she has never turned away from. Standing in the Olmos Park Community Garden, it’s impossible to ignore the prominent role community continues to play in Kersey’s life. Fifty volunteers brought the ecosystem to fruition over a weekend during the drought of 2011. Against all odds, the garden thrived. This was due in part to Kersey’s irrigation ollas, which employ a 2,000-year-old technology that involves placing a porous pot in the ground and putting plants around it. The plants’ roots pull the needed moisture directly from the pot, allowing for life even in the driest of circumstances. The garden sits across the street from Kersey’s backyard (and future site of her studio); soon the potter will work on her vessels, custom backsplashes and bridge commission with the continued fruits of community as her backdrop. You can find Kersey’s public art on the guardrails of the Millrace and Mulberry bridges in Brackenridge Park. Her work is available for purchase anytime at Mockingbird Handprints in the Blue Star Arts Complex (1420 S Alamo) and during Articopia (December 12 and 13) at the Southwest School of Art (300 Augusta).

Tell me about your relationship with nature.

My work is very connected to nature. It’s my religion. I think being an artist is a lot like being a naturalist because you’re working the material and talking to it, and it’s talking back to you. You’re making decisions together.

There’s an ornamental nature to everything you make, even the ollas. What’s your process like?

I’ll make anything out of ceramics. So what comes first is the idea and the function. Am I trying to make ollas to water the plants? The function is very important as a potter. But then I think, what can I do to make it so that this piece couldn’t be made anywhere? What can I do to add value and put my own personality into it? That’s where the flowers and the colors come from. I really only use three glazes. I have an amber, a green and a turquoise, and I only use iron and copper in those glazes. I keep it pretty simple because I think when people see my work they’re always reminded of some sort of historic ceramics they’ve seen before … and it’s true. The reason it’s true is because I work very directly. I use earthenware temperature and I use iron and copper in my glazes. And those have been available to ceramic people for forever.

They definitely feel like artifacts.

I wouldn’t say I work in the contemporary cutting edge of ceramics. Right now, the cutting edge is a lot of slip casting and using industrial design—very clean and high-tech. And that type of ceramics just doesn’t do it for me. What I’m most drawn to in ceramics is that it immediately accepts my mark and is so malleable. I’m always interested in capturing the malleability of clay and not trying to perfect it and make it look like it was made out of a different material. I want the material to shine through. I’ve made pots now for 10 years, full-time, and I’ve never made the same pot twice. Anytime I’m on the wheel, even if I’m throwing 20 or 30 mugs, each mug is going to be different as far as shape, design, how I carve into it, how I glaze it and all that. It’s all these little intuitive gestures that keep it challenging for me. I can’t imagine throwing 40 of the same pot over and over.

What would you say to a potter just starting out?

Make a lot of pots. Seriously. I think for me in my path of being a potter it’s been about the conversation with the material; and as many touches I can have with that material, the better the conversation becomes. The more I learn, the more the clay has something to tell me. I’m constantly being surprised, even now … I still feel like my best work is yet to come, and I don’t know how it’s going to evolve yet. So I’m excited for that. I feel like I’m on a journey that has a long arc to it, and it isn’t just a quick satisfying thing. And that’s hard in our culture. We want instant gratification and instant recognition, but if those things aren’t worth the journey, then they’re empty in the end.

That sounds like a fortune cookie.

Maybe that will be my next piece.

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