Potter Can’t Leave Any Vessel Unadorned

Kaaren Stoner so loves twigs and leaves that she named a whole gallery after them.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

Ceramic artist Kaaren Stoner cites nature as the inspiration for her work, and that becomes elegantly obvious at first glance. Not only does her palette reflect it, but she adds texture and visual interest by using impressions in clay formed by leaves. Sometimes she also incorporates actual twigs and vines into her pieces. That’s why, when she and her husband moved to Waynesville in 1998 and opened an art gallery there, she named it Twigs & Leaves (they sold the venue in 2007, but she still exhibits there). Stoner taught ceramics at John C. Campbell Folk School for 10 years and earned her MFA at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

Photo by Colby Rabon

When did you decide to make ceramics a lifelong pursuit?

I spent a year in Sweden in 1963, studying at a small school north of Stockholm. It was the first time I can remember that I touched clay. Five years later, while traveling in Europe, I went to see a potter’s exhibit in Vienna and there was something about them that made a profound impression on me, and I knew then that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

Sculptural foliage adds depth and drama to the artist’s signature vases, pots, mugs, and wall pieces.
Photo by Colby Rabon

When did you start using leaves in your work?

My mother actually found some of my grade-school artwork in a trunk, and I was absolutely stunned that I was using leaves in artwork in 2nd or 3rd grade. The house we lived in until I was eight had four huge trees in the front yard. Two were willows, and I loved how the branches hung. The others were sugar maples, and I was entranced by all those colors in the fall. 

Photo by Colby Rabon

And that fascination never left you?

When I first used leaf impressions in clay was around 1970, when a college friend brought me a collection of pecan leaves that were lacy because of holes in [the leaves] left by leaf miners [insects]. I thought they were fascinating and used them to make impressions in plates and bowls. 

Photo by Colby Rabon

How did that segue into your professional work?

In the 1980s, I was making ceramic baskets with clay handles, and getting them to hold their form but not be too heavy was nearly impossible. So I used grape vine for form, texture, and a decorative element. Now almost all the vases I sell have kiwi or grape vine in them. My pieces are referred to as clay but they’re really mixed media. I’ve used impressions from tree bark, and in summer some thick-veined squash, grape, or Shasta Viburnum leaves. 

Photo by Colby Rabon

Do you have a favorite?

There is nothing as super as baby leaves. Little tiny oak, sycamore, and even sweetgum leaves in the springtime. 

Kaaren Stoner, Haywood County. Stoner’s work is sold at Twigs & Leaves Gallery (98 North Main St., Waynesville, 828-456-1940,  twigsandleaves.com); at Stecoah Artisans Gallery (121 School House Road, Robbinsville, 828-479-3364, stecoahvalleycenter.com); and through her own Kaaren Stoner Design Studio (accessible on Facebook). She is a member of Haywood County Arts Council (haywoodarts.org) and Blue Ridge Craft Trails (blueridgeheritage.com) and participates in those organizations’ advertised tours. For more information, e-mail kaarenstoner@bellsouth.net.

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