Ceramicist finds creative niche
When Beth Eaton Knepler started making pottery at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the '90s, she instantly knew she wanted to do it forever.
When Knepler, who says she comes from a very creative family which includes a sister who is a painter in Italy and a brother who owns a restaurant in South Carolina, graduated from UWM in 1999, she started working at the now-defunct Lincoln Art Pottery.
"Everything sold there was functional. Being poor and wanting to make money, I started playing around with making functional pieces, which was fun, but I felt it important to have my own look," says Knepler.
Knepler started experimenting with pressing textile stamps onto the clay. She owned a few stamps from India, but says her stamping style really took off when her best friend sent her a huge package of stamps from Japan. She hasn't stopped collecting stamps since.
Over time, Knepler created a style that's immediately recognizable. She continues to create functional pieces that are fun, look unintentional but convey talent and are very colorful.
"I love color. It is my second language," says Knepler.
Knepler's pottery is available online and sporadically at Beans and Barley and Anthology in Madison.
In 2004, a friend told her about a new art fair called Art vs. Craft.
"That show changed everything," she says. "Because of Art vs. Craft I have made a lot of money and met a lot of friends."
A few years ago, Knepler was asked by the owners of Anodyne Coffee, who are also her neighbors, to make ceramic mugs to sell in the cafe. Knepler had their logo printed on a stamp and now they are regular customers.
"I really loved making mugs that felt like Anodyne. I let the clay have a life of its own," she says.
Knepler has also made camping-themed mugs for The Northern Highland American Legion State Forest and the American Bicycle Federation.
In 2002, Knepler had a son, and although she thought at the time she could just bring him with her to her full-time job in the studio, it turned out to be a challenge.
"As any new parent, I had no idea what I was in for. Truth was a pottery studio is a pretty dirty and, in my case, cold place. I also getting up at 5 a.m. so by the time it was 10 a.m. and time to go to work I was exhausted," she says.
Knepler and her husband decided to have a garage built behind their Bay View home with studio space in it. With child care help from her mom, Knepler worked one day a week in her studio and started to search for fairs and galleries that might be a good fit for her work.
Because Knepler, who had a daughter after her son, observed her own children enjoying time in her studio, she decided to offer classes for kids. She has been conducting pottery classes for kids for about a decade, but mostly in the summer so the groups can work outside in her backyard.
Knepler hopes to continue teaching and would like to secure additional large jobs making mugs and other usable items with regional businesses in the future.
"I make each piece unique. They are very personal. I put a lot of time and care into each piece and I love them all," she says.
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