Visual Art 3-17-2017

NEMAA Artist Series: For the Love of Clay

A profile of ceramic artist Julia Timm, who makes elegant, functional pieces of everyday art from her Northrup King Building studio, with a focus on color, close attention to form, and finely detailed design work

1Julia Timm, small "window" plates, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist

Julia Timm (Fresh Mud Pottery) began her work in ceramics at age 50, when her youngest of four children went off to college. She started with an introductory class at Northern Clay Center. “At the beginning,” she says, “I was so hungry, I wanted to try everything, every way of working with clay.” And she began, as many do, with the potter’s wheel, but was frustrated by the imprecision of the work. “You just have to be willing to try stuff. Letting go of outcomes is so important, as is giving yourself the space to learn.”

She gradually worked her way through various shaping processes, firing techniques, and equipment. (“I still have so many tools around here that I hardly ever use.”) But once Timm found slab work – rolling out flat sheets of clay, which may then be inscribed, cut, and shaped in all manner of forms – she never looked back. “I really appreciate when artists spend time on their surfaces,” she notes. “The creative possibilities [to this way of working with clay] are vast: the drawing, the textural work, color, the unusual forms you can make. Ceramics are seductive, but I found other ways of working the material a bit boring after experimenting with slab work – a little ho hum, by comparison.”

She goes on, “I look at the clay landscape, and 60-80% of the work I see is sculpture now. It’s beautiful, but I think of all these young artists seeing that as the only way to have their work noticed.” And, she says, she’d love to garner a national reputation for her work, too. “But I’m not sure about the costs involved [for both artist and buyer]; I don’t want to take on the travel that’s necessary for that kind of exposure.” Given that, she’s content with putting her attention to the local scene, and to making sure her work can be found in a variety of area venues and price points. “I want to make things that people will use and love every day,” she says. “I want to keep making, and to do that, I need to offer things I can move from the studio” and into people’s hands.

The creative possibilities of working with clay are vast: the drawing, the textural work, color, the unusual forms you can make. And the results are functional, too. I want to make things that people will use and love every day.

Recently, she’s focused on the decorative embellishments of texture, color, and patterning in her ceramics. “My mom collected Chinese embroideries, and we had them all over our home. I must have spent hours looking at the designs. And when I started doing ceramics, I loved the mix of content and randomness in the work, the mix of patterns and designs. I looked to origami paper and the elegance of Japanese pottery for inspiration.”

Timm says, even when her kids were young, she found outlets for artistic expression, albeit on a smaller scale than her practice now. “When I was a stay-at-home mom, I studied photography; I learned to develop my own photos.” She says she loved photography, learning the ins and outs of its processes and techniques, but, over time, “I found I just didn’t have as much to say with images – making them just didn’t bring out my own voice.” That’s what she noticed really changed when she started working with clay, and with her hands. She says, working in ceramics she has found “the creative energy just doesn’t stop.”

“For me, it’s the making that feeds my creativity – working with the materials, seeing my designs realized in the clay.” And, she says, “my work makes people happy – who doesn’t love a beautiful mug? I like putting that out in the world.”

Related information and links: You can find Julia Timm’s ceramic creations on view in festivals like Art-A-Whirl, St. Kate’s Art@Ramsey, and Art Attack, as well as at the Mill City Farmer’s Market (and Indoor Winter Market), or by making an appointment to visit her studio in the Northrup King Building (Studio #337) in Minneapolis. For more, visit her website:

Susannah Schouweiler

Susannah Schouweiler is a writer, editor, and museum wonk. For 12 years, she was Editor-in-Chief of Mn Artists at the Walker Art Center and responsible for publication of original arts writing on the homepage, blog, and social media assets. Back in the day, she served as Editor of Ruminator magazine, a nationally distributed art and lit mag. She has written on the arts for a number of regional and national outlets, including Hyperallergic, Rain Taxi Review of Books, MinnPost, The Growler, …   read more