Tricia Cutler remembers always drawing. Her nana, Patricia Cutler, took her to the zoo when she was a young girl and while in the car remarked, “‘Tricia, you’re really quiet.’ I had drawn all over the side of the van with markers,” says Cutler, 24. “I always was doodling and drawing.”
The Avon woman grew up to be an artist. She thought, at first, she would concentrate on painting or drawing. “I used graphite and drew portraits all the time,” she remembers of her high school years. But a class in ceramics turned her head and captured her attention. She then was accepted into East Carolina University’s school of art and studied abroad in an Italy Intensive Art program the fall of 2013, where she took classes like drawing, metal design, book arts, Italian language and literature, painting and art history. There weren’t any ceramics classes. She came home feeling like a different person, more open-minded, and she was inspired by the beauty of the Italian landscape.
“I knew I wanted to go back,” she says. She also learned that two-dimensional art was not going to be her focus. “After coming home, I decided I wanted to do ceramics. I missed it.”
In the summer of 2016, Cutler received a phone call from Linda Darty, the famed enamellist who ran the Italy Intensive. She asked Cutler to be an assistant in the program. Cutler hesitated because it would mean she wouldn’t be working with clay, but she decided to take up the opportunity anyway. She worked the Intensive in the fall of 2016, as well as the spring of 2017, and she is returning for the fall session this year.
In between sessions, she has been working in clay and teaching clay workshops at Kinnakeet Clay Studio and Showroom in Avon. Her Italian experience — the landscape — shows up on some of her designs on functional pieces, such as mugs. Also inspired by her nana’s flower garden, she paints exquisite blossoms on bowls she creates. She brings printmaking experience from East Carolina University into her work, as well. She transfers linoleum prints to clay to express Italy’s pastoral beauty. Cutler has a passion for texture and how it feels. She is big on carving designs into her clay, such as sunsets, flower designs, waves — the things she has soaked in from her surroundings since youth.
Cutler brings her love of creating to her classes at Kinnakeet Clay. She helps folk of all ages create a mug from a slab and paper template or a bowl by using a mold. Students also create plaques that can hang on the wall featuring coastal iconography. She smiles and her eyes light up when she talks about teaching and her favorite class — making fairy houses. These generally are 6-inch high by 4-inch wide magical structures that can be placed in a garden or a potted plant, for example.
“I feel like people can have more freedom to make something that’s not going to be functional, and there’s always one person in the class who steps out of the box,” she says.
Folks can call the gallery or check out their website — kinnakeetclay.com — to find out more about the classes that are taught by several artists.
A visit to the gallery will allow you to see and hold Cutler’s work, which includes painted and carved bowls, carved vases, stamped pendants, luminaries, carved mugs and painted ornaments. The stamped pendants are particularly interesting as they are essential oil carriers. They are fired in such a way that they hold onto the oil’s scent for hours.
Along with Cutler’s ceramics, the shop carries a wide variety of work by artists including potters, painters, and jewelry makers.
As for Cutler and her future. She’s going to work on her portfolio when she returns to the Outer Banks from Italy and consider ways she can have access to, or build, a new kiln to do atmospheric firing using wood, salt, and soda. She says it’s called atmospheric because you are introducing something into the kiln’s atmosphere that causes chemical reactions. She really appreciates the orange peel effect she’s gotten from a salt firing.
“Salt acts like a glaze onto the clay,” she says. With clay, it’s all about texture, a biggie for Cutler and what you’ll see show up on much of her work. While the island gal and globetrotting artist may not have become a painter or draftsperson as first thought, she uses all those skills in what she creates today. There’s just something about clay that speaks to her — interesting materials to use from the earth.
Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.