Kathy Mommsen Uses New Method to Learn About Old Technique in Italian Castle

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kathy Mommsen Uses New Method to Learn About Old Technique in Italian Castle

When her grant failed to materialize after she had planned out the details of a session of study in Italy, she decided to use Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing website, to raise money for the trip instead. She offered rewards for donors like a weekly newsletter, invitation to a showing of her Italian work at her gallery in Minneapolis, iPad drawings from her travels, hand-drawn, watercolor post cards she created, ceramic tiles with imagery from her ceramic intensive study in Italy, ceramic cups and bowls, ceramics lessons and ceramic signs.

More than 100 people donated to her cause. With her fundraising complete, Mommsen traveled to study for six weeks with Moretti. She first met him in 2007 while taking a sabbatical in Italy after her instructor at a majolica workshop at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis recommended that she and her husband stop by while bicycling. A small bowl with a figurative drawing that she bought served as a reminder of the quality of his artistic vision, Mommsen said.

“While formulating plans to move my artistic career forward, the opportunity to work with Marino was top of my list,” she wrote.

When she wrote him about returning seven years later, Moretti fortunately “recollected the crazy couple that had biked to his castle,” Mommsen said.

During her Kickstarter-funded 2014 trip that ran through the end of September, she learned more from him about the clay and glazes used in his designs.

She told supporters before her trip, “To be able to work in Marino’s Italian studio using his clay, wheel, glazes and kiln will give me an entirely new perspective to the majolica process.”

Learning his techniques to transfer sketches to pottery and then to a finished project would add insight to her creative processes, she wrote to donors.

Moretti’s father worked as a historian, and he often saw antique chards of ceramics while growing up, Mommsen said. Instead of copying the work from the Middle Ages, Moretti began using it as an inspiration for his own designs.

While Moretti continued to use a white glaze like traditional works, “He put his own world on it,” Mommsen said.

That world included inspirations from medieval symbolism, including a two-tailed siren similar to the mermaid Starbucks used as its original logo.

Like Moretti, Mommsen comes up with her own designs for her work, which she creates at her clay@3 business at the Northrup King Building in Northeast Minneapolis. Some of her works are less bound in historical representations. For example, she often creates sketches of fellow bus riders that she transfers to ceramic cups.

Another technique Mommsen uses is to sketch actors in the dark during a play. She transfers the sketches onto pottery. They have attracted attention. For example, the Guthrie Theater sold cups made from her sketches of “A Christmas Carol” during the past holiday season.

Everyday scenes have inspired her, and she continued the trend in Italy. People sitting outside a church during a particularly popular service inspired a scene.

With the majolica process, Mommsen creates shapes from red earthenware clay on a potter’s wheel. She then applies sketches to pottery in layers. She initially dips the piece in a black majolica glaze. Then she sketches with wax using a brush or syringe.

“The drawing must be done quickly to give the feeling (of) motion,” she explained.

She then dips the piece in a white majolica glaze. The wax retains the lines Mommsen drew.

She adds vibrant colors before applying a matte glaze that contrasts with the shine of the majolica glaze before firing pieces at 1,880 degrees in a kiln.

“I love the quality of relief in the black majolica because of the many layers,” Mommsen said. “The layers are evident when you feel the bowl or cup in your hand.”

Moretti’s process is similar, and Mommsen said she felt drawn to his vision of story and his mastery of the clay and glaze process.

After the six-week period in Italy, she shipped 28 pieces she had created to Minnesota – an adventure in itself as she sought with mixed results to find a way to ship the works at an affordable rate.

Since she returned, she has worked to provide the promised rewards to donors. This month, she narrated a slide show about her trip at a pair of events. Next month, she will conduct the first of three one-day majolica tile workshops 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Northern Clay Center, 2424 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis. Another workshop in March will take place at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts.

She will also conduct a shorter Saturday workshop 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14, at her studio, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The studio is located at Dock 3 of the Northrup King Building, 1500 Jackson St. N.E. in Minneapolis.

Her studio will be open to the public along with the studios of other artists at the Northrup King Building 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, for the building’s monthly First Thursdays in the Arts District event.

To learn more about Mommsen’s work and events, visit (Sun Sailor, January 2015)