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Profiles in Pottery: Susanna Cammarata

Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Well, for professional potter Susanna Cammarata, his words couldn’t be more accurate. It’s no surprise that Susanna caught the pottery bug considering it was such a fundamental part of her childhood. “I grew up in a household with my mother [Susan Cammarata], who is a potter… In the house I grew up in, the woman who had it before us owned a pottery business. So my parents bought the house and the kiln that we use now is the same one that this woman used- so it’s at least 45 years old… But I really got into it in high school… one of the electives I ended up taking in high school was ceramics and I’d skip classes to go hang out in the pottery room.”

susanna and susan cammarata
Susanna and her Mother, Susan, in their workshop.

Though it always seemed an obvious path for Susanna, it took a little longer for her to figure out how to ‘remain an artist’ as an adult. “I went to Penn State for Business Management and followed what I felt was an obligated path,” she said. “I worked for huge corporations and I eventually got really burned out on the job that I had. I was looking to make a change. I was with my Mom two years ago… she looked at me and said, ‘You know you don’t have to do this anymore… you can try something else.’”

After that conversation, Susanna and her mom started Four Sister Ceramics. Luckily Susanna and her mom work really well together as a team, “I’ve got my Mom to look up to with 47 years experience. She was out of town this past week and I picked her up from the airport last night. As soon as she got in the car I was like, ‘Mom. I have questions. I need you to look at this stuff.’”

four sisters ceramics mug

Though they work well together, they definitely have different methods to their work, “I feel like in general [I] work pretty free-form and there’s not much in the way of structured consistency. It’s very much like whatever we want to make. My Mom is someone who has the amount of experience where she can sit down and say, ‘Alright, I’m going to make 30 of these pieces.’ And you can get a very uniform amount of work out of her. I still sit down and there are times when I’m like, ‘I don’t know what this is going to be, but it’s going to be something.'”

four sisters ceramics halloween

As with any start-up venture, you’re going to have highs and lows in terms of figuring out what works, “I remember we started in the summer and we had very traditional mugs and bowls and pitchers. Then we got into the fall and immediately I came up with this pumpkin lantern Halloween-looking piece that sold really well and was immediately successful… and then we got into the winter and I tried doing these snowman lanterns… I’ll sometimes paint myself into a corner where I’ll put all this detail in a piece and it looks great along the way and then I go to glaze it and I’m like, “What am I going to do to show the detail I just put into this?” So I found myself with these snowmen with this outrageous detail and I had no idea how to make it show through… some of them looked great, but I recognized that I was trying to push something that wasn’t necessarily there… It’s the fear of thinking you need to have all of this variety for your customer when people are still coming back for the traditional stuff that we have.”

In terms of inspiration, Susanna doesn’t have to venture far from home to find it. “I’ve been really enjoying working with the nature around our house. We have these vines that grow on the front of our house and the leaves on these vines, especially around the fall time when I make the pumpkin lanterns, I’ll add a leaf detail at the top with a coil for the vines. And the way those look when I roll out a piece of clay and I imprint the actual leaf on it…it’s like the work is already there, nature has already done its job and all I need to do is outline it. And it looks so good! I love the way that looks… finding things with stock to them that will imprint well into the clay and the style that we’re using it makes me so happy.”

four sisters ceramics vase leaves

Susanna has certainly gone through uncertainties and doubts when it comes to her career path, so she has some sage advice for young artists who may be in the same boat. “I would say rely on your support system. That is the biggest reason why I’m able to do what I’m doing. The stability that I have based on family and friends around me has made this very inconsistent path possible…. I’m constantly talking to my sisters [and friends] asking their opinions on different pieces I’m working on. Using people for their advice and their guidance on what they think could be successful or wouldn’t be. That and just going for it, you know? I never in a million years thought I would be able to do this. The trust in yourself is a huge thing and I struggled with that for a long time… trusting that the bills will be paid and that success will happen even though it’s inconsistent, it’s going to be there… it’s easier to just believe it’s going to be there than being frustrated and worried about it constantly. So trust in yourself and the people around you.”

Susanna’s next big adventure? She’s moving to South Korea in September to further hone her craft. If you want to see her work in person before she moves, there will be a going away exhibition and sale in Pittsburgh:

Morris Levy Gallery
3634 Penn Ave.
Saturday, August 18th, 5-9PM
Beverages and light hors d’oeuvres will be served.
Cash, credit/debit, and Venmo accepted.

If you can’t make it to the exhibition but would like to see more of Susanna’s work,  follow @foursistersceramics on Instagram or on Facebook.

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