I Create Birmingham: Katherine Tucker of Civil Stoneware

“We are a blessed city to have so many brilliant folks live and work here. I feel like we all inspire each other to create.”

Launched in May, Civil Stoneware is led by Katherine Tucker, who has been throwing pots for more than seventeen years. After completing her fine arts and design degree in Georgia, she moved to Alabama to intern at the Birmingham Museum of Art where she examined and cataloged ceramic pieces from the African and Pre-Columbian collections.

You have a BFA in Ceramics and Design. How did you initially get started?

I knew I wanted to study art and somehow I stumbled upon LaGrange College. It wasn’t too far from home (Tuscaloosa), and they had just built this beautiful art facility. I loved the feel of the place and was drawn to the smaller size of the college, which would mean a more intimate education and hopefully more attention from my professors. I loved each concentration offered in the art department. But I caught onto the wheel pretty quick and I never looked back. I remember calling my parents to tell them I decided to major in ceramics and they were kinda surprised that was a thing. However, it became apparent really quick that it could be a lucrative career. I’m so grateful to them for believing in me and giving me the freedom to choose such a fun major. I love the malleability of clay and its ability to be formed into many functional pieces. It served my love of making functional products really well.

After completing your degree, you spent some time interning at the Birmingham Museum of Art. What was your role? How did their ceramics collection impact your work?

I interned with Dr. Emily Hanna, (who is now the Senior Curator) and also the Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas. I would research and catalog pieces in the museum’s storage that were selected by Dr. Hanna to exhibit on the floor. With white gloves, I would unpack and photograph the pieces on seamless and then spend time in the museum’s library searching for details about the piece. Scouring Sotheby’s auction books, I was like a sponge, taking in all the forms and shapes and purposes for the pieces. I would assist in the prep department and occasionally when there were big shows. It was great to see how they prepared the spaces, cared for each piece, and displayed them with complementary colors and like forms. It was truly an extended education.

The Civil Stoneware collection has a signature black. What led you to this color?

I discovered the clay body at a ceramic supply store and I fell in love. It was really what led me to create the line. The clay is mixed for us in house in Santa Ana, CA and the black color is the result of a chemical reaction of the clay’s ingredients in the kiln. Glaze can cover a multitude of imperfections, but I loved the matte finish and worked really hard in testing in order to preserve it. Ours is fired to stoneware grade temperatures so it’s fully vitrified, making it food-safe and durable (oh and it’s dishwasher-friendly too).

What do you think is special about being an artist in Birmingham?

Oh man, it’s an honor to work alongside the number of talented artisans in Birmingham. We are a blessed city to have so many brilliant folks live and work here. I feel like we all inspire each other to create. In fact, the makers in the Civil Stoneware studio are all really talented artists! We often discuss their own ideas, brainstorm ways to promote their works, and offer feedback when asked. I love that about our crew. There really is a sense of respect and love for one another, and that translates into the wares. They care about creating beautiful work, and I hope it emboldens their desire to make more of their own work.

Where can we find your work this holiday season?

In Birmingham, Square One Goods Co. is hosting a pop-up next door to the Alabama Theatre for the month of December and they have some pieces. You can also find us at Details (Liz Hand Woods) in English Village and Winslet + Rhys in Avondale.

Our studio is on 2nd Ave North (on first floor of the Phoenix Building), so you can stop by our studio to see the wares in person. Visit the website for directions and hours.

Any advice for aspiring artisans?

Take risks! Go for it. You get one chance at this life — you might as well give it all you got. It’s only a failure if you don’t try at all. Make it a priority to be around creative people, and ones you admire and aspire to resemble, even if it means volunteering. My internship at the Museum was unpaid, but it was a really valuable experience and well worth the investment in time.

Photography Credit: CW Newell