picture of a pot
Mila Visser 't Hooft      

About my work

What attracts me to work in clay is that it links me strongly to the past. To know that I work in one of the oldest art forms of human kind, that for millennia people have been working in clay, makes me feel rooted and centered.

And it shows in how I work: I throw my pots on a kick wheel and (as often as possible) I fire in wood kilns, using technologies that have not changed significantly for centuries.

The forms I choose to make are often anachronistic. My ceramic bottles, for instance, are obsolete in our day, and they hark back to a time when they were used commonly every day. I like piggybanks, because they are traditionally so much a ceramic form, yet in our day of credit cards they are no longer very useful. Because of their obsolescence, I hope my bottles and piggybanks make people reflect on the relationship between our present and our past. It is also this obsolescence that frees them of their functionality, which allows me to explore and experiment with the forms.

That same attraction to the past has me intrigued with ritual and religion. Sometimes, I make objects for ritual outright: communion goblets, seder plates, labyrinths, vases for ikebana, to name a few. But more often I make objects that can become part of people's everyday rituals. I cherish the thought that my bowl might become someone's favorite for cereal every morning, or that my tea cup is the one someone reaches for for comfort, or that a set of my dishes might be used to gather together friends for a good meal and conversation.

While I am nourished by the past, I am not interested in making pieces that look like old ones. Potters in the past were very much current in their time, and I am part of my present too. Our time is one of individualism and self-expression. And I am, of course, influenced by potters around me. So, in my work I try to maintain a balance between expressing my love of history, tradition, and ritual and making pots that are uniquely mine and current.

picture of a pot

picture of a pot
picture of a pot Most of my work is fired in a wood kiln, some of it in a soda or salt atmosphere. The pieces I make for this type of firing are shaped to take advantage of the unique surface treatment such a kiln can offer; I make bold cuts, flat plains, sharp edges, ridges and finger marks for the flames in the kiln to dance around, bump into and decorate with the ash and salts they deposit.

A little about me

I was born and raised in the Netherlands and came to the United States when I was 20 for a year of college and to broaden my horizons. During that year I met Erica, my partner, and decided to stay. My parents, three brothers, two nieces and three nephews all live in the same town in Holland where I grew up. After college, we moved to San Francisco and I started working in non-profits, primarily in fundraising.

For as long as I remember I have been making things. My first interests were in textiles: I sewed, spun, dyed yarn, and knitted. Just after college I received a Watson Fellowship and studied the resist-dye cloth traditions of Sierra Leone.

In 1992, I started taking classes throwing clay from Lenny Price at the Sharon Art Studio, a San Francisco recreation facility. In 1996, I was fortunate to work in the studio of Lynn Wood. Two years later I met Catharine Hiersoux and started working with her. Catharine and I still work together at least one day a week. She has been and continues to be an extremely generous and inspiring mentor to me. In 2004, Catharine's wood kiln had to be dismantled and since then we have done our wood firing with Richard Carter.

I recently became the "artist in residence" at Monteverde preschool, the same school our son attended. He is in Kindergarten now.

picture of Mila