St. Peter artist Michelle Kaisersatt will show her nature-inspired clay work at the Carnegie Art Center, Mankato.
Her exhibit, “Rebirth: Out of the Ashes II,” runs July 6-22. She chose the title because she had a fire in 2014 that destroyed her home and kiln and she decided to become an artist full-time.
“I feel very humbled by the beauty in nature,” Kaisersatt said. “My work pales in comparison to the beauty that we see around us. I’m trying to capture the essence of it in my pieces. It’s almost a homage to nature.”
Kaisersatt’s background is in interior design; her favorite style is nature-dominated art nouveau. “It’s the design element that I absolutely adored,” she said. “It’s very nature-oriented and the fluidity of that is something I really wanted to capture in my pieces.”
She starts by throwing clay on a wheel and shaping a vessel.
“Most of the time, I don’t have a clue what it will look like until I throw it,” Kaisersatt said. “I shape it, then sketch it. It’s a very fluid process.”
As she shapes the vessel, she leaves the base thick. After sketching and allowing the clay to dry to the point where it’s “leather hard,” she carves into the clay.
“It’s softer than frozen butter,” she said. “I carve out of the clay instead of adding onto the clay,” which are very different processes.
She carves elements such as leaves, tree bark and branches and animals. Only recently has she started adding attachments.
Kaisersatt uses a fine-grained clay because she wants to avoid a pitted look that would be left by sandier clays. She enjoys the carving. She can spend hours putting details on a vessel, which she compares to a three-dimensional painting. When she needs a break, she puts a bucket over it to keep it from drying out. Working on a piece can take a few days or three months.
“Some literally flow out of me with enthusiasm, others take a little more quiet time to see what they should look like,” she said.
When it’s done, she lets it dry out completely, called “bone dry.” Then she uses a sponge to soften edges. After that, she carefully moves it from her studio in the St. Peter Woolen Mill to her home, where she has built a new kiln. Kaisersatt may add some color and sand it, which reveals the lighter color of the natural clay; either way, she does a first fire, called a bisque fire. For many pieces, she adds a red iron oxide and burnishes that with organic cotton and glazes the piece before a she high fires it. The red iron oxide creates browns and reddish browns.
Kaisersatt really developed her process when she put a pottery wheel outside.
“Because of that strong connection I felt during that time, I decided to take some of my kitty fund, and I created my studio,” she said. That studio had many windows and trees were just outside. Kaisersatt said she felt inspired by the nature right outside her windows; she experimented with different types of leaves, then branches.
“The sculptural aspect really took hold and I decided to play with how far I could push the envelope in the stability of the vessel and still have delicate leaves and branches be the feet,” she said.
Her exhibit includes 35-40 pieces, some of which are imperfect, she said, but show the growth and development of new techniques. It will be shown in the Cook Gallery. A mixed and multimedia thesis work, “Extraordinary Dialogues,” by Lucia Castaneda-Medina will be shown in the Rotunda and Fireplace Gallery.
An artists’ reception will be 7-9 p.m. Saturday and Kaisersatt will give a gallery talk at 5:30-6:30 p.m. July 13. The center is open 1-7 p.m. Thursdays, 1-4 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.
She used a 2016 Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council grant to replace her kiln and experiment with color in preparation for it. “Rebirth: Out of the Ashes II” is Kaisersatt’s third exhibit.
“I look at the beautiful pieces that people have carved and I feel like a newbie on accomplishments, that I’m getting my feet wet on where I’m going to go but it’s been a fun evolution to me,” she said.