Local Artisan Creates One-Of-A-Kind Creations

Sean Sullivan
Issue Date: 
February, 2020
Article Body: 

Natick resident Jill Soloway gets her hands dirty. A ceramicist for a decade, her home’s lower level was converted years ago into a studio, whose shelved walls are filled with the fruits of Soloway’s artistry. Chatting about her process, she refreshed one of many hefty, squared bags of clay, infusing it with a few doses of water from a spray bottle. The cool, earthy substance within the plastic gave way to a firm finger, leaving a satisfying divot.
A cursory scan of the pieces reveals a pattern. Soloway favors natural tones - bucolic browns, greens and reds. These preferred pigments result from the glazing process, one of the final steps in the work of a ceramicist. In addition to enhancing the appearance of a piece, glazing serves a functional role. It seals the clay’s surface, rendering the finished product durable and food-safe in most cases.
Soloway’s studio windows overlook Jennings Pond, admitting an ample amount of sunshine and natural inspiration. On clear days, the light is abundant enough to work by. An electric kiln is a relatively recent addition, the imposing domed appliance dominating a section of the studio.
With so many one-of-a-kind works of art on hand, Jeffrey patrols the premises for added piece of mind. A Boxer and Labrador mix, his signature security move is a wagging tail that threatens to ward off visitors.
Adorning the shelves too is an array of odd-looking clay formations. These have the look of tiny ice- cream cones, ones that have fallen and landed upside down on summer pavement. The pointed cones are actually primitive pyrometers, sensors made of clay that indicate whether the temperature within the kiln was sufficient for firing the pieces.
Like a turkey thermometer, these let the ceramicist know when the object of her efforts has been fully “cooked.” Though rather than popping, the cones droop to varying degrees, depending on the duration and heat within the kiln.
A tray of unused cones protruded upward, straight and at practiced angles, each like the gnomon of a small sundial. Adjacent to those was a selection of used pyrometers, their cones wilted to varying states, bent down like burdened blades of grass. Seeing the tray of spent cones, the imagination might conjure the manner of pottery they might have shared kiln space with.
Soloway sells her work at artisan’s shows and farmer’s markets, and is a reliable feature of the town’s annual NAOS (Natick Artists Open Studios). During that two-day, weekend event, art and artisan aficionados can visit the workspaces of local creators, peruse and purchase the works they produce.
In her professional life, Soloway works with a silicon-based medium as a developer of business software. Though she’s taken some classes and workshops, her expertise and education in the hardware world of ceramics has been largely self-directed.
Through that process of creative trial and error, she’s developed an affinity for a rustic aesthetic, imbuing her work with natural, weathered features. There’s a wabi-sabi sensibility to her art, Soloway sometimes pinching a mug or other piece to impress upon it an imprimatur of imperfection - in this case a telltale “dent” or similar sign of character. The products of Soloway’s creative expression, her art tends to be of the practical persuasion as well.
“I like to make functional pieces,” she said, a claim attested to by those shelves and hanging displays of ceramics. A selection of soap dishes seemed inspired by sturdy, interwoven bars of wrought iron. A miniature village of ceramic abodes catches the eye, each designed to house a small candle. When kindled, the light shows through panes of tiny, painstakingly-cut windows. “I usually make things that I need. I just try to make it cool and interesting.”
Jill can be contacted via [email protected]