Oak tree ash from her wood stove, red clay from the earth – there is a bit of Chatham County in nearly every piece of pottery Lara O-Keefe creates.* As someone who grew up here before heading out into the world, this represents a literal return to her native roots and soil.
“I spent my childhood here in Chatham County but also spent several years in Jemez Springs, New Mexico where my stepfather worked. In middle school we lived in Santa Fe where my mom went to acupuncture school,” said Lara. “We lived rurally with no TV and no siblings so I think I learned from a young age how to entertain myself.”
It was during a ceramics class in her final semester at Warren Wilson College that she became hooked on making pottery. She went on to enroll in wheel throwing classes at the community college in Asheville, then took a part time job at Mangum Pottery in Weaverville. “I learned to run the kilns, mix glazes, and crank out lots of slab ware,” Lara said. “I got to use the studio in my off time to develop my own work.”
After three years, she landed an apprenticeship with Jugtown Pottery, a historic working pottery in Seagrove, NC, where she focused almost solely on the wheel. “It was there that I got exposed to wood firing and began to dream of building my own kiln,” said Lara.
“Fast forward three years, I left Jugtown with improved throwing skills and went to work for Mark Hewitt (famed Pittsboro potter) where my interest in wood firing solidified. I ended up just spending six months with Mark, as I had my first daughter on the way,” she added. (Lara is now the mother of three girls.)
Here is what Mark had to say about her work:
“Lara makes strong, elegant, useful pots which reflect great dedication to her craft and an innate artistic talent. Every morning I use one of her small jars which holds my teabags, and then one of her teapot’s that is full of character, graceful, and does not drip!”
Lara says the pots she tends to make are directly inspired by Mark and by teachers Pam and Vernon Owens. “Certainly my vocabulary of shapes is growing but the bare bones of what I do, how I pull a handle, what sort of profile I strive for, it all relates back to my teachers,” she said.
“With each firing I am exploring new surface treatments using wax resist, stamps, slip-trailing. I still haven’t found that one signature effect that makes my work recognizable because I love to dabble and try new things!”
Where to see/buy her work:
Lara is busy preparing for her upcoming kiln opening (her second since her twins were born five yeas ago) as part of the 2016 Chatham Artists Guild Studio Tour. “I am finishing up this cycle of making pots and getting ready to clean out the kiln, prepare the shelves and posts and load it up”, she said. “Right now I just finished a batch of tea pots.”
Kiln openings/ 2016 Chatham Studio Tour
Saturday, Dec. 3, 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday, Dec. 4, noon – 5 pm
650 Abeyance Drive, Moncure, NC
Call 919-704-6204 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Lara is #36 on the Studio Tour. (See map.)
“The kiln openings offer a unique opportunity for people to get a window into the process of wood firing. I fill the shelves in the kiln shed with a wide variety of functional stoneware – bowls, platters,vases, jars, teapots. I love to get to know the people who come out here. On a cold day we will have a small fire actually in the front fire box of the kiln so it is a nice, relaxed and unique atmosphere for shopping.”
Currently Lara sells her work almost exclusively at the kiln openings. Sometimes you will find pieces at the NC Crafts Gallery in Carrborro or at Liquidambar in Pittsboro. You can also contact Lara to schedule a visit to her studio or to order a commissioned piece.
From the artist:
Full name: Lara Michel O’Keefe
I live in: an old farm house in Moncure (with her husband James and their three daughters and their dog).
I grew up: in Chatham County.
I came back here when: I landed an apprenticeship at Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove then with Mark Hewitt.
I define my art as: vital
A childhood memory I cherish is: making miniature adobe bricks by the river and drying them in the sun.
I first knew I was a potter when: I saw the gardens at Jugtown Pottery. The whole place was magical, from another time and I yearned to have my own pottery set in the country.
Three words that describe me are: silly, creative, impatient.
My daughters describe me as: a good cook, a clay monster and a good playmate.
The craziest thing I have ever done is: row and kayak down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
When I’m not creating art, you’ll probably find me: cooking.
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: Shannon Bueker – her paintings are so fluid and full of life. Of course Mark Hewitt, I think his level of productivity just cannot be rivaled. He is so driven and disciplined, a true master craftsman. Eddie White is a Chatham treasure (more like national treasure). He is the real thing!
In 10 years you’ll probably find me: either at the wheel or on the beach.
Come to the kiln openings to see many of these pieces in their final form!