Sleek porcelain vessels crouch on white pedestals and glass color-speckled vases on the opposite side of the dusty hallway. Music sashayed through open doors as I wandered down in the McGuffey basement to the end of the hall, stopping in front of Studio Six.
Shallow clay bowls sit in rows on the center table, no doubt made of porcelain clay, while other vessels of alternating shapes and color line the shelves. Dust clings to your shoes and feathers your nose while the delight of craftsmanship and precision dances across your skin.
Rebekah Wostrel has been a residential artist at the McGuffey Art Center for 10 years and is now the president of McGuffey Art Museum. Give her a visit at Studio number six or view her art at rebekahwostrel.com.
Q&A with Rebekah Wostrel
I grew up in Gloucester, MA. I lived close to the ocean and spent lots of time exploring nature—lots of woods with old abandoned water-filled quarries and the rocky shoreline. I moved to Charlottesville in 2005 because my husband, Ted Coffey, got a job as a professor in the UVA music department and I was accepted as a resident artist at The McGuffey Art Center. I teach clay and design classes in my McGuffey studio and online Art Appreciation and Art History at PVCC. I am currently the president of McGuffey and director/founder of an art outreach program called The Mobile Art Share Initiative (MASI). I’m working hard to raise funds for that so I can bring artists into city schools for after school enrichment. I have a beautiful daughter name Elsa Belle Blue and a dog named Saint Augustine (Augie).
When and why did you start making art? What mediums have you worked with, or particularly enjoy?
I don’t recall ever NOT making art! I’ve always loved to use my hands to make things. Anything really, with any medium. My first experience with art-making was probably building drip castles in the sand and sculptures with sticks and rocks in the woods (a la Andrew Goldsworthy). I fell in love with clay very early on—probably when I was around 4 or 5. An old family friend (Robert Natti) was a potter in his spare time and was so passionate and fearless about making things out of clay, I was inspired by his love of the material as well as his work ethic and tireless making.
Recently I’ve been using a variety of non-clay media with my porcelain forms such as angora felt, stainless steel and blown and cast glass. I love collaborating with other artists who work with materials that I don’t such as glass, metal and music.
Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?
As a child: Robert Natti (not a ‘known’ artist but he’s the reason I’m an artist today)
Teenager: Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keefe
Adult: Andrew Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin, Annette Messager, Ai Weiwei and many, many more!
What aspects of life excite you, stir your affections, fuel your passions, inspire your art? What influences your art?
I love to travel and experience cultures very different from my own. Most recently, I spent 6 weeks in Bali, Indonesia with my husband and (then) seven year-old daughter. I had lived there before many years ago and had been longing to go back. In Bali, Art is Life and Life is Art. Life, art and spirituality are intertwined and inseparable. I strive to cultivate such a way of being for my own self.
I’m always thinking about art and I find inspiration in the most unlikely places—a crack in the sidewalk, a constellation of pebbles, loose fronds of floating sea grass, a hollow in a tree. Often, it’s simply the process of making and making and making again which inspires more making! I love making cups for this reason—with every new cup incarnation I discover a new curve, angle or plane, a new way to touch the clay. Dancing frees my body and mind, yoga aligns my body and mind, art stimulates my body and mind.
What message(s) do you convey through your art? What do you want people to take from seeing your art?
I am constantly oscillating between two different bodies of work—I’m making pots and thinking about sculpture or making sculpture and thinking about pots. They all come from the same source. I hope that people who use my cups and bowls experience a sense of quietude, a ‘slowing down’ in the moments they spend with my pots. I like to play with juxtapositions—hard/soft, austerity/whimsy, edges/curves. I want people to want to spend time with my art, to engage with it, maybe be confused by it! Ultimately, I hope that my pots bring joy to the users and my sculptures maybe confusion then joy.
What does a day in the life of an artist look like from your perspective?
These days I’m particularly busy with non-art activities. Teaching at McGuffey and PVCC takes up a lot of my time. I don’t make a living from my art so teaching pays the bills. And, I have an eight year old that I love to hang out with! Typically, I’m able to get about 15 to 20 hours per week to focus on my art-making. It’s not a lot but regardless of what I’m doing I’m always thinking about art. I’m trying to do more self-promotion with social media and am stock-piling work right now to market to galleries.
What makes Cville special for artists of all forms?
Charlottesville has an incredibly vibrant and off-beat art scene for such a small city. I was surprised and pleased to discover this when we moved here in 2005. The McGuffey Art Center is an incredible resource for artists and art appreciators alike. There are classes in all media, performances, shows and workshops happening all the time. There are so many wonderful places to experience art: The Bridge, Live Arts, Ix ArtPark, Art in Place, all the downtown galleries and performance spaces. And FESTIVALS! The Virginia Film Festival, Festival of the Book, LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.
Favorite place in Cville to be creative?
The McGuffey Art Center!
Favorite place in Cville to see art?
McGuffey and 2nd Street Gallery (I used to love Chroma Art Gallery, now closed…)
Favorite place in Cville to grab a bite?
Bang! Hands down favorite! Also love Mas, Monsoon, Peter Chang’s, Milan. I’m a vegan so Asian cuisine affords me the most choices!
Favorite place in Cville to get a drink?
I don’t really drink out anywhere. But on the rare occasion that I do, I love the fancy drinks at Bang!
Any other Cville favorites?
PVCC’s winter festival, Let There Be Light! Wunderkammer! 2006. My first art experience in C’Ville!
What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and your art?
I just want time to make make make! I’m exploring a new dirty red clay body. A big change from my 20-year love affair with porcelain. It’s liberating to work with a completely new type of clay and so my work is changing A LOT. It’s an art re-awakening of sorts. I’ve been doing lots of drawings/watercolors of circles, ovals, rock stacks, granite block walls and fantasizing about making sculptural porcelain pendants. Oh, and I’m also working on a line of porcelain pendant lamps!
What pieces should we look forward to?
I’m hoping to add a ‘shop’ to my website to sell my pots and start an Etsy shop with wearable porcelain art.
Lastly, describe yourself in 10 words or less.
Compassionate, vegan, ocean-lover who loves to dance, swim and sun!