Carolyn Bernard Young of Earth to Art has found her roots, and her passion, in her ceramic work. She shares her portfolio and her story.
ABI: Why did you begin teaching ceramics classes?
CY: As a quality engineer for a major aerospace company, my job required that I travel to Europe and the Middle East regularly. Studio time on the weekends became a precious luxury and I feared my skills would get rusty. One of my favorite teachers once told me that the best way to hone your skills is to teach. Students challenge you as a teacher and you’d better be on top of your game.
So…I decided to offer a Saturday class and my teacher was so right! My work improved by leaps and bounds simply because I had to be able to explain what I was doing and why. The “why” led to ways to make it easier for students to understand. Classes grew and a small core of students stayed with me year after year.
ABI: How does your family background inspire your work?
CY: My mother was Choctaw and when she died, I found a copy of the Choctaw role listing my grandmother as a young child. Years passed and finally, after I retired and caught my breath, I submitted the paperwork to the Choctaw Nation. Now, I am proud to say, I am a registered Choctaw potter and a member, by blood, of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
From the beginning, my work had a decidedly Native American look, but without the tribal connection, I didn’t feel authentic – and certainly could not claim to be. When Sam and I reconnected after 33 years, we married and took a three-week honeymoon through the southwest. It had a profound effect on me and my work changed dramatically.
ABI: What makes your techniques so unusual?
CY: After twenty years, throwing a pot on the potter’s wheel is still magical to me. But throwing is only the beginning. After a day of careful drying to soft leather hard, I further refine the form by trimming, also called turning, the pot. Three separate coats of black underglaze are then applied, using four wheels to speed up the process. Numbered index cards identify which coat has been applied so I don’t lose track while moving from wheel to wheel. After the final coat has lost its sheen, the pot is divided into sections horizontally by carving straight lines, again using the wheel for speed and precision.
Last, and to me best of all, I sit at my work table with a view of what we call “the grove”, listening to my favorite Native American flute music, and carve. Sometimes I carve for hours. As I carve away the background, the images appear almost in relief. Watching the image appear as I remove the underglaze and clay never gets old, no matter how many times I carve the images. Although similar patterns and Native American symbols are used over and over, each piece is unique.
After bisque firing, color is applied to the interior and a clear glaze over the carved areas before the final firing. I love the surprise of bright color against the graphic carved images whether using red earthenware or white stoneware. All in all, I feel blessed to do the work that I love every day with my biggest fan, Sam, cheering me on.