Clay artist Celia Storey of Little Rock calls ceramics “a form of problem solving that solves your problems by creating problems for you to solve.” And she knows this from personal experience.
In the early 2000s, a foot injury sidelined this once constant runner. She was curdling in frustration until a friend suggested a pottery class at the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) Museum School. As a little girl, Storey had noticed that certain oily-feeling dirts had the excellent virtue of raising welts when shaped into blocks and thrown at her brothers’ heads. She had even tried to study pottery at AAC once before, in 1979, enrolling in a class taught by the acclaimed Rosemary Fisher, but her hours at the statewide daily newspaper forced her to drop out in the second week. (Storey is a reporter and editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.)
At AAC, Angela Cummings’s instruction and the challenges of clay – work changed Storey’s life—immediately. Suddenly she was a person who made pots and little figurines and pots with little figurines attached.
In 2008, the AAC Museum School hired her to teach in the ceramics department; in 2010, she began building her home studio with the help of her husband, Michael, who was owner of the newspaper’s Otus the Head Cat. Although he loathed clutter and crowds, he gamely worked sale booths with her, said insightful things about her silliest ideas, and overlooked the ton of clay and gear taking over the basement.
After he died in 2018, it was clay and staring into its problems that absorbed her suddenly empty hours in a suddenly empty home. Working on art doesn’t raise the dead and it doesn’t heal a heart. But it solves some of the problems created by grief.
While Storey throws on the potter’s wheel sometimes, her functional pottery is usually built from clay slabs. She takes the clay from 2D to 3D, rolling out flat slabs, slicing them into geometric shapes, and standing them up into vessels and service pieces or whimsical effigy pots. She likes the challenge of attaining a semblance of symmetry.
She chooses clays that mature to stone-like density when fired to 2232° F in her electric kiln, so that the finished pottery can be used in a microwave. And she formulates her own glazes from raw materials using recipes she picks up through the community of potters or develops through her own research.
She aims to create work that 1) makes people smile and 2) leaves the viewer sensing there’s a story happening in the clay.