Getting My Hands Dirty through Art

A potter’s artistic story


Carla Edstrom, a local Boiling Spring Lakes artist, will be joining the Southport Magazine family with a new monthly Art feature focusing on local artists from Southport, Oak Island, and the surrounding areas! Consider this introduction a way to get to know Carla and her artistic story.

The first time I ever got my hands dirty in clay, was in my sophomore year of high school art class circa 1984. Everyone was listening to Prince sing Purple Rain that year, and my bangs added at least another 4 inches to my height. I was raised in a small Midwestern town surrounded by cornfields in Illinois. My art teacher sat me down at a pottery wheel with a pound of clay, and a potter was born.

I have always been a very creative person. Making art and performing music have always occupied a place in my life. Even as a child, I liked to draw, and I always had paint underneath my fingernails. Then I started singing in church as a teenager, and a whole new creativity emerged. By age 16, I was writing and recording my music in a studio. I always knew that I would be a singer songwriter and an artist. And I dreaUnfortunately, life took me in a different direction. My father died suddenly leaving my mother to raise 4 children alone. Money was tight and my plan to study Picasso in Chicago was no longer an option.

In my early 20’s, I went to work as a certified nursing assistant and a Paramedic, and soon after I met my husband Michael. We married in 1998 and immediately uprooted from Illinois and moved to New Mexico. It was there where my love for creating art was rekindled, and I was blessed to take art and writing classes under the mesmerizing shadow of the Sandia Mountains. But I didn’t touch clay again until I moved to Southport in 2005. The familiar desire returned when I read an ad for pottery classes.

I knew instantly when I walked into that pottery studio behind Franklin Square Gallery that I was home again. The smell of the clay, the kilns, the glaze buckets-everything about it took me home again. I immersed myself in clay and worked at the wheel every chance I could get. I joined the Associated Artists of Southport and quickly bought a used kiln from another potter. I received a grant from the Brunswick Art Council for my pottery wheel, and the rest is history. I now have my own studio set up in our home, and teach and mentor others on a regular basis.

There is nothing easy about making pottery on a wheel even though potters tend to make it look like a breeze. It’s a connection we get from practice, pure and simple. There is something about holding a clump of clay and focusing on forming it into something useful. I put everything else out of my mind and mold the clay into being. Even when my life seems to be running amuck, just a moment at the wheel and I can think clearer and I’m pulled back into my center. It’s like talking to an old friend when no one else understands. My favorite part of making pottery is wheelwork, but I am also drawn to pottery surface decorations and glazing.

Raku and other alternative firing methods such as Saggar and pit firing have always interested me because of how intense the processes are. You have to be right there to watch and encourage the firing to mature, and then stop the process before it is ruined. Firing this way takes focus, patience and a desire to learn. You can’t just turn on the kiln and walk away. It’s not for the faint of heart as many times the pot is ruined in the volatile firing environment. But nothing feels better than pulling a pot out of the ashes of a pit firing and seeing that the smoke and flames have made a masterpiece.

I try to keep my work fresh so that my art is always evolving and fluid. A couple years ago, I felt that my work had become stagnate and I needed a change. I have now started sketching on my pottery and focusing more on improving the quality of my work. Sqraffito is one form of decoration I use that is made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color. I sketch my subject before I apply it to a pot. Then after brushing on an underglaze, I carve out my drawings. I have found this method most rewarding because it pairs my love for pottery and drawing in one medium.

With my art continually evolving, I am grateful to be living in such a creative place where I can keep growing, and where all levels of artists reside. It’s not just the professional artists living here, but also the emerging artists who are finding their place. We are not just drawn here by the mild weather, but also by the natural beauty and constant inspiration that we enjoy with the different bodies of water and the Southern landscape that surrounds us. It’s a perfect combination for the creative soul, and I’m grateful to be part of the mix.

You can find Carla’s work displayed in The Franklin Square Gallery and The Celtic Heart. You can contact her through her facebook page Carla Edstrom Pottery or email:

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