Ceramicist Osa Atoe Makes Connections Through Clay

Arts & Culture

Photo by Marianna Massey.

As a ceramicist who built a clientele through in-person pop-ups and social media outreach, Osa Atoe is uniquely attuned to the emotional currents of others. Meeting and engaging people is, for her, one of the best parts of what she does. “A lot of people who buy my work become my friends,” she says. So, at the end of 2020, as the death toll of COVID-19 broke 300,000, she directed that same friendly impulse at a series of pieces that fell outside of the popular mugs, tea sets and planters that comprise her usual body of work. “There was so much loss and grief,” she says, “and I wanted to speak to that through my work.”

Atoe made urns.

If it seems a touch macabre, the spirit in which these “commemorative jars” were made meant that many who purchased them saw a vessel with which they could honor the life of a loved one. She recently shared a post on Instagram in which she marries the creative energy of her process with the piece’s final destination. “There is so much personhood in this pot,” she says, “it gave me masculine energy and, indeed, it now holds the ashes of its new owner’s father.”

The comments on the piece praise its beauty and the simplicity of its shape, the exquisite designs etched into it, the slight tilt that gives it some personality. “Bless you for making him such a beautiful resting place,” comments one user. For Atoe, the gratitude went both ways. “I was really happy to be able to offer people some peace and comfort,” she says.

For 2021, she has plans for a commemorative plate series for Black History Month that celebrates the Black leaders that helped usher in one of the most politically engaged elections in U.S. history. She also plans to return to some of her “greatest hits,” like planters, mugs and teapots. Most of all, she’s excited for the day when she can be around people again. “My goal is to connect with other artists and appreciators of art,” she says, “because interacting with people is at the heart of what I do.”

Atoe will be teaching a workshop titled “Terracotta Textures” at Sarasota Clay Company on Friday, January 29th.

Photo by Marianna Massey.

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