Sarah Jaeger has been a studio potter in Helena, Montana since she completed her residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in 1987. She received a BA (in English literature) from Harvard and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute. She received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Montana Arts Council in 1996 and Target Fellowship from United States Artists in 2006. In 2007 she was one of the artists profiled in the PBS documentary Craft in America. In 2012 Ceramic Arts daily published a DVD showing her techniques and ideas: “Throwing, Altering and Glazing for Function and Beauty with Sarah Jaeger.” She has taught at Pomona College, the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has given workshops in the US and Canada. Her work is in public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the University of Iowa and, most important, in many kitchens throughout the country.
Functional pots cohabit our intimate domestic spaces. We experience them with our bodies – our hands and lips as well as our eyes. They can insinuate themselves into our consciousness by many different avenues even when we are not paying attention, and over time pots we use can accrue layers of meaning and association. Through the quiet roles they play they can bring the experience of beauty or unexpected pleasure to everyday life.
Despite the material abundance of our culture, it seems to me that we have been impoverished by the disjunction of beauty and handwork from utility that accompanied the industrial revolution and the hourly wage. When time became a commodity, it no longer made sense to make mere dishes by hand, and yet, as the jeweler and writer Bruce Metcalf has said, “handwork makes meaning, not just physical things.”
I am obsessed with making pots that convey a sense of volume, that speak of the capacity to contain and also offer their contents, that express their potential to be useful, generous, and, in a way, luxurious. I choose to work with porcelain, thought to be the most precious of clays, but which is also the most durable. Its whiteness and translucency lend a luminous depth to the glazed surfaces. I use saturated colors and often layer glazes, usually in patterns that repeat themselves loosely and with variation as they wrap themselves like skins around the volumes of the pots.
Along with the decorated pots, I make “plain white” pots, though some of the forms are not so plain and the white glaze is not exactly white: it has a bluish cast and breaks and pools like a celadon. It’s a glaze that invites touch, and it feels wonderful, the softest hard surface imaginable. I may like my pots best when they are just finished, still somewhat damp and malleable, and with a sheen to the surface. The white pots after they are fired most resemble themselves as they were at that earlier stage of their existence. They retain some of the sensuous qualities of damp porcelain, and they offer repose from the insatiable desire for pattern and color that overtakes most of my pots.
Whether decorated or not, I want the lustrous surfaces of my pots to attract the hand as well as the eye. I want the pots to be both elegant and easy, beautiful and friendly, capable of providing abundant nourishment to our daily lives.