Sometimes “Whimsical” Has Something Dead Serious to Say

Andrea Freeman proves that whimsy is hard work.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

“Children’s artwork is my favorite of all artwork — it just makes me really happy,” says long-time potter Andrea Freeman. She holds a Masters of Art in Teaching from Western Carolina University but also learned a lot just from watching her own sons, who are grown now, chasing dreams in visual art and music. 

She remembers giving her boys art supplies and observing while they explored the possibilities without any concept of an end result. “Working with children in art helped me to loosen up and realize that I needed to be more free and truer to myself,” says Freeman.

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Her popular earthenware is a clever mix of utility and imagination. Making use of white space in the visual spirit of a sketchbook, the potter adorns her work with charismatic but structurally correct flora and fauna, drawing them with a heated ceramic pencil, then painting in the color using an underglaze.

Everything is infused with a childlike wonder; it’s as though Freeman rediscovers the joy of expression every day. But the potter’s background is decorated with academic achievement. She first studied with professor Setsuya Kotani at UNC-Greensboro, who inspired even his entry-level students to make their own clays and glazes. Later, working with Ron Propst, a ceramic artist based in Winston-Salem, she was introduced to the prestigious Penland School of Craft and spent the early ’90s in Burnsville, before finishing her studies at Eastern Carolina University, graduating at the top of her class.

Freeman’s vessels can read earthy or lighthearted and delightful.
Photo by Rachel Pressley
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Freeman’s handcrafted plates, bowls, mugs, vases, pitchers, and sculptures are fired in an electric kiln. Her vibrant images of wildlife express her passion for protecting the environment, as does her process. “One of the things that drew me to the electric kiln was [the ability to work with] bright colors, but the number-one thing was that it uses lower temperatures and less energy,”
she explains.

“My style has really changed over the years. It has gone from being monotoned and earth-toned, to bright and — what many people have called it — whimsical.”

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Whimsical or not, her hard work does not go unnoticed. A few years ago, she completed a 600-mug order for Anthropologie’s Christmas line printed with a single line of encouragement: “Yes.” (Freeman’s idea was to prompt a personal interpretation for each buyer, the one-word message begging the longer question, “What is your yes?”)

She’s done series of vessels in honor of endangered species including the Hellbender salamander, sea turtles, and flying squirrels. Beneficial but often unappreciated creatures, including the black snake and the possum —“who eats around 4,000 ticks per season,” she notes — have also been honored on her pots.

Freeman at work at her wheel.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“I’m not a proselytizer,” she states. “But what I tell my kids is, in living by example, it can affect other people. … My work is a constant reminder of just how beautiful the world is.”

Andrea Freeman, Freeman Clayworks, Asheville. The artist’s work is sold locally at Chifferobe Home and Garden (132 Cherry St., Black Mountain, chifferobehomeandgarden.com), The Dripolator Coffeehouse (221 West State St., Black Mountain), Trillium Gallery in Little Switzerland (101 High Ridge Road, Marion), and Ultra Coffeebar (242 Clingman Ave., Asheville). Freeman schedules studio visits by appointment. For more information, e-mail a.freemanclayworks@gmail.com or see the potter’s Facebook and Instagram pages: @freemanclayworks.

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