On a recent trip from the Coleman Dock Ferry Terminal to SeaTac Airport, I had the pleasure of sharing a cab with a lovely lady, Katy Levit. Katy and I had literally met minutes before, and as we made our way to the airport, we chatted about this and that. She’d only landed on Bainbridge in 2020 with her family, and naturally I felt compelled to tell her about The Island Wanderer (full disclosure, I always feel compelled to tell complete strangers about my blog). Once I’d shared what we write about, she asked if I’d heard of a new business on Winslow Way called Celtic Crossroads NW…I had, as I was currently in the midst of finalizing an article on them (you can read that here). Katy explained that her husband, Clay Levit, was the amazing luthier, whose gorgeous fiddles are available at CCNW, and in turn, I told her I had planned on contacting Clay for an interview after seeing his work at the shop. One thing led to another, and I soon discovered that Katy is an accomplished ceramics artist, naturally I wanted to learn more about her and her work.
Katy grew up in Memphis, TN where she explored ceramics at camp as a youngster, and in high school art classes, but it wasn’t something she took seriously until she went off to college. She attended Tufts University in Boston, which had a partnership with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), it was there that she took her first real ceramics class, and discovered her love of the art. “My first job out of college was as a production sculptor for a company that sold handmade fruit and vegetable sculptures at high end boutiques and places like Neiman Marcus,” she explained. “I only made $7/hour but I learned so much about hand building it was totally worth it. I don’t think I even knew before then that being an artist was a career path.”
Katy spent a few more years in Boston and worked in various creative jobs (after leaving the ceramics studio), such as teaching art at an elementary school, working at a stained-glass studio, graphic design, and multimedia design. During that time, she took classes at the Harvard Ceramic Studio to have access to a work space and a kiln, however, it was just for fun, she wasn’t quite ready to make a career out of it.
Eventually, she moved to Austin, TX where she met her husband, Clay. “When Clay and I got married he bought me a kiln as a wedding present,” she said. They moved back to Memphis, where Katy set up a home studio and started selling her own work. “That lasted a few years until we had kids (daughters Rose and Saoirse),” she said. “For several years I was a stay-at-home mom and then started a community art business in Memphis called The Art House. It offered classes and studio space for kids and adults as well as kids birthday parties.” When they moved back to Austin, she closed The Art House and went back to school for Nutrition, then worked as a nutritionist for several years before deciding to get back into ceramics.
Katy explained that ceramics are typically either thrown on a potter’s wheel (“wheel thrown”) or “hand built” (made without the use of a potter’s wheel). “There are three basic methods of hand building – slabs, coils or pinch pots,” she said. The method she uses depends on what type of sculpture or functional pieces she’s making. For bowls, plates, mugs, etc. (functional pieces) she uses slabs, but her sculptures are often a “combination of those techniques plus other random methods that don’t fall into one of these categories.”
Although her functional pieces are definitely “art” and worthy of both displaying and everyday use (all her materials are food safe and all functional work is dishwasher safe, and are typically made of porcelain), it’s her sculptures that really reflect her exceptional talent and creativity. In viewing them, you’ll find an eclectic and varied subject matter, including some very delicate designs that capture the eye and the imagination.
“My work typically reflects whatever I’m thinking about in my life. Most of the time an idea pops into my head and then evolves as I make the piece,” she shared. She’s inspired by so many things, such as family (Empty Nest, Wistful, and The Marriage Bed), politics (They tried to bury us…), societal expectations (It’s what’s inside that counts) or the state of the world (Hope Unfurling). “And some just by the challenge of trying to make something out of clay that looks like leather or wood or another material,” she continued. “And I do a fair amount of making it up as I go. Ceramics is a very unpredictable medium so I’m often beholden to the accidents that happen as I work. A good example of that is ‘Expectations’. The sculpture broke in the kiln. I posted a picture of the broken piece on my Instagram and a friend said she liked it better broken. I hadn’t considered that. So, I mounted the pieces on wood, added gold leaf as a nod to the Japanese art of pottery repair, kintsugi, and ended up with a much more interesting sculpture.”
In the spring of 2018, Clay’s best friend, Stephen and his wife Emmy, moved to Bainbridge Island. The Levits were attending an event in Seattle that summer, so they decided to pop over and see Stephen and Emmy while they were in area. “Stephen was driving us around the island and got lost. He pulled into a driveway to get his bearings and a realtor popped his head out the front door and asked if we wanted to come in for the open house,” she recalled. “We hadn’t realized the house was for sale, but we all like looking at houses so we went in.” Like most people, they’d already fallen in love with the island, and after a month of hand-wringing and negotiating they bought the house, with the intention of coming to Bainbridge to escape the Texas summers and rent it out the rest of the year. “Then, in Spring 2020 we came to Bainbridge for Saoirse’s spring break. The pandemic hit while we were here and we couldn’t leave,” she said. “As luck would have it, Clay had just closed on the sale of his business in February 2020. Saoirse finished her senior year online and we never went back to Austin, except briefly in 2021 to pack up and sell our house.”
Embracing island life was easy for the Levit family, even during the pandemic, and as soon as possible, Katy started spreading her wings in the community. This past spring and fall, Katy taught a Mindful Ceramics class at Bainbridge Yoga Studio. “The idea is that a creative practice is also a mindfulness practice. It’s a 6-week hand building class that gives people the opportunity to learn ceramics in an atmosphere of curiosity and play,” Katy told me. “It’s a class that’s appropriate for beginners and allows people who might be new to ceramics to see how tuning into the work of your hands helps get you out of your head.” She hopes to continue offering that class through the yoga studio in the future as well.
She’s also been teaching a class at Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN), however, as they don’t currently have a ceramics studio, Katy’s classes were held in the jewelry studio, where she taught students how to make porcelain pendants. She’s currently on BARN’s schedule to teach another class in January on making porcelain jewelry bowls (small dishes to hold jewelry when you’re not wearing it). You can visit their website to sign up for that class here.
Katy enjoys encouraging others to tap into their creative side, “…people often say ‘I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. I can’t even draw a straight line’. First of all, there are very few straight lines in art. Second, I truly believe that all you need to make art is the desire to make art. You can just do it for the fun of creating something that wasn’t there before, or the joy of getting your hands dirty. Once you can let go of the expectation that it needs to look a certain way to be art, that’s when you’re really getting somewhere.”
*Images courtesy of Katy Levit
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