Oral History Interview with Sarah Frederick Part I

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:29 - Working in Ceramics

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Keywords: Bill Samuels; Bourbon industry; Bridget Byers; California; casting slip; ceramics; Maine; Makers Mark Mark of Great Art; mold; Nelson County; New York; pottery; University of Louisville

3:41 - Growing up in Louisville / early exposure to the arts in California / making a living as an artist

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Keywords: Alfred University; Boston (MA); ceramics; Chevrolet; Crescent Hill; Dave Brubeck; Debbie Newman; education; Frankfort Avenue (Louisville); Highlands; Jewish Community Center; Louisville (KY); Manhattan (NY); Mills College; Norton Psychiatric Clinic; Oakland (CA); Philadelphia (PA); South Carolina; Volkswagen; weaving

12:58 - Relationship with Louie Frederick / making art after a breakup / going to graduate school

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Keywords: African art; Appalachian Fireside Gallery; Bernard Leach; camaraderie; ceramics; Fred Merida; graduate school; Haystack School; Hungary; Jerry Workman; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; Louie Frederick; Maine; Marcia Silverman; Mary Alice Hadley; Nigeria; plates; pottery; Tom Marsh; Tom Sawyer Park; tribal; University of Louisville

21:46 - Joining the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen / learning different techniques from other ceramicists

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Keywords: Al Shands; Appalachian Craft Center; art fair; Berea (KY); Chicago (IL); Crescent Hill; Fran Redmon; Joe Bova; Kentucky Craft Foundation; Kentucky Craft Marketing Program; Mary Shands; Phyllis George; porcelain; Sandy Simon; technique; Tennessee; terra cotta; Wayne Ferguson

27:40 - Fruit emerges as a theme / process and technique

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Keywords: Berea College; bowls; Britain; crochet; doilies; glaze; oil lamp; pattern; teapots

36:30 - Making a living as an artist / studio space / owning your own business / ceramics residencies

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Keywords: Alfred University; Archie Bray Foundation; Costa Rica; drawing; Helena (MT); Mary Anderson Center; mutual fund; Southern Indiana


WILLIHNGANZ: This is Greg Willihnganz interviewing Sarah Frederick at her home in Louisville, KY on Friday, September 19, 2008 for the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association.

FREDERICK: Hello Greg.

WILLIHNGANZ: This is uh, this is a terrific house. Thank you for letting us come in and talk with you about things. Could you uh, possibly…no one else has, but perhaps you can, in one sentence tell me about your career. Describe the type of work you do.

FREDERICK: In one sentence ?

WILLIHNGANZ: As I said, no one else has, but perhaps you could…

FREDERICK: Yeah, well actually I have something fairly interesting that I wrote for it…

WILLIHNGANZ: Oh, okay (interrupting).

FREDERICK: …that I think describes me. It’s…this is written more or less at this point in my life as I look back over it. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, but as a young woman left for California to study art. This changed my vision of how life might be lived. I came away in love with the ceramic arts and the look and feel of California in the 50s. So, I have spent a lifetime in clay, studying further in Maine, Kentucky, and New York, Canada. Soon after graduate school I went to work for myself producing a line of decorative pottery, which was exhibited and sold nationally. Most of the important events in my life are centered around the relationship with clay and other artists.

WILLIHNGANZ: That’s terrific. Even though you say you haven’t done clay now in several months.

FREDERICK: Yeah, it’s been sporadic for the last few Years. Because of moving, and…various things. But um I took on a project this summer, the Makers Mark: Mark of Great Art competition which was laid out to artists. And, I think a lot of people were kind of suspicious, like ‘what is this’ and ‘do we really want to do this?’ and ‘isn’t it all about Makers Mark?’ But I took it on as a challenge because I’ve been very interested in the bourbon industry and uh that part of Kentucky, Nelson and Marion County. And I’ve made several (bourbon?) artifacts, so I took it on, largely to get me back into the clay studio--which it did. I made a casting of, um, a very large Makers Mark bottle and carried it from there. It was kind of a joke project…had to do with Bill Samuels…who is quite a character .

WILLIHNGANZ: To say the least .

FREDERICK: And I once had my picture made with him at Ham Days in Lebanon. He was wearing a pig mask, so I developed this product called, uh, Bill Samuel’s Very Own Ham Days Bourbon, Ninety Percent Full Proof. So, it was pretty elaborate. I had to get a label made, and uh…But, I, I learned quite a bit and I worked with a very interesting student from U of L, who was incredibly helpful to me, Bridgette Buyers, whose…um…working in ceramics at the University of Louisville. And I learned to make casting slip, I learned to make a mold which is a wonderful way to make things. I…we always scorn that. It’s like ‘Oh, who would do that?’ But, I can think of a lot of things I’d like to make that way. It would come out very fast and then I could alter them, so it’s on my agenda to do that.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay, interesting. Maybe you could uh…just uh…bring us up to speed from your childhood forward. Did you grow up…were you born in this area?

FREDERICK: I was born in this area. My father was from Louisville. I was actually…I wasn’t born here. Did I say that? I was born in Manhattan, because my father was working for a Louisville Company up there. My mother’s from South Carolina and Philadelphia. But we moved here when I was three, and I grew up um…I think I was pushed a little hard to be regular, or conformist, and I went a bit underground. I was a little bit rebellious. I wanted to wear different clothes than my mother wanted me to wear . And in school, I was thought of as a pretty good artist. And in high school they said that I would probably end up on the coast of Maine as, I’m not sure doing what…but. I went to a very traditional college in Virginia from high school…was really…it was a place where I should have felt comfortable but didn’t, and there wasn’t much art. So, halfway through I transferred to Mills College in Oakland, California, and I was just blown away by California. The climate…in the 50s it was this very much more democratic place than it probably is now; you could be somebody either wealthy or intellectual, and live next door to somebody much more usual. It just seemed like a very influx and interesting place, and of course San Francisco was really even more beautiful then than it is today. It was…so back, and uh…and I…there I could major in art, which is why I went there, and in a basic crafts class I fell upon ceramics. I mean, who grows up in the ‘50s thinking, ‘I might become a potter’, or, ‘I might work in clay’. I knew nothing about it. But, I happened to have a simply wonderful teacher who was trained at Alfred University, a kind of mecca of ceramic arts in the United States. And, he was a very charismatic Spanish, from Spanish heritage, San Francisco born, and he was just a pied piper. I just…that was it for me. There was a craft guild there of older people, who use the studio and had sales on the tennis court. The whole life of ceramics seemed…seemed interesting to me. And there was also a wonderful music department at Mills: Darious Miou, French composer, early 20th century composer, and his wife Madeline. He was on the faculty; they both were and lived there. The music…I never, (unintelligible) got a masters degree at that time, before me, but…um at Mills College. So, it was a culturally interesting place and very beautiful it was…um.

WILLIHNGANZ: We’re going to have to hold off.

FREDERICK: They come up the hill (covered by train noise), so they’re pulling cattle…


FREDERICK: …instead of up coming up from downtown…this is very hard for me.

WILLIHNGANZ: How many times a day do you listen to this?

FREDERICK: Well, there are 30-33 trains a day but they don’t all come that way. And, its, you know…I quite…I grew up liking trains so…you…it does block your conversation. I like living near the train tracks, and if you looked out my windows you wouldn’t even know they were there.

WILLIHNGANZ: Wow that’s nice. Sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt you…

FREDERICK: No, I’m sorry where were we?

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, we were-- Mills College.

FREDERICK: It was intellectually, visually stimulating and very beautiful. I remember especially, well…when I got there first it was summer time. And the hills were all brown, and there were many many kind of Mediterranean-type buildings, and red tile roofs, and blooming flowers, and you could have imagined you were in Italy, or on the Mediterranean, or Spain. That kind of…that’s how it looked. And in the winter, when it began to rain, the hills would all turn green. You probably know this from being there.

WILLIHNGANZ: I didn’t spend excessive months there.

FREDERICK: Yeah, but in winter the hills, all the big, beautiful rolling hills all turned green, it looked like Ireland or…so. I loved it, but when I graduated from there, um…my parents had given me a Volkswagen, and they had…it was an older one. It in fact had little windows for the cart in the middle, and they had brought me a picture of it and my teacher said, ‘Is this to let you go or bringing you home?’ And actually, I was still pretty young when I graduated from college. (Unintelligible) but in knowing what to do, here I was wanting to do art, and knowing that my family probably expected something a little different from me. So, I did come home for a while. But I soon moved to Boston to live with a high school friend. I lived in Cambridge, and our landlords were artists and they helped me get a job with, in an art studio, apprenticing for some artist who worked in a building where there were two young women doing weaving and making a living, and two young men doing furniture also. And it was like, ‘Oh my, there are other things you can do in art besides advertising (Unintelligible). So I met a lot of people in Boston who were working in art, and I think that was when the decision came that this was my life, and it was all on me now. How am I going to make it work? So I went to an art school one year there. I went to a school called Mass. Art. It was the Massachusetts College of Art which was a public school to train teachers…art teachers for the schools…but it had to be a kind of an off-beat place for the very good faculty, and so I was there in the ceramics department for one year. And through that, connections and the job, I had I met a lot of artists and saw how artists live. I happened to live at the very low end of the scale. I had a 25, year-old Chevrolet I think I paid $25 for…is that possible? It’s possible because this was in the late 1950’s. Well, I came back to Kentucky in 1960, but employment was hard. I worked in the Jewish Community Center teaching classes, and I worked at a very upper-end museum teaching classes to children. It was just very hard, so in about 1960, a friend of mine, Debbie Newman, who was a painter who was living in New York, was also deciding to come back to Kentucky. So we set up a studio on Frankfort Avenue and had a wonderful time. And we also job-shared. We had a job that we shared at the Norton Psychiatric Clinic doing…running (Unintelligible). I would work three days a week and do two in the studio, and then it was turned around.

WILLIHNGANZ: Excuse me. I wonder. Would it be possible for us to close the windows?

FREDERICK: I think it’d make a lot of difference. To tell you the truth…


FREDERICK: There may not be one for awhile

WILLIHNGANZ: So tell me again, you were in this house, timesharing this job.

FREDERICK: Studio, yeah. We had an apartment on Frankfort Avenue, and across the street where the Grape Leaf is, that was where my studio was. And this is a little aside, but at that time there wasn’t Interstate 64, and all the farm trucks came to the stock yards that way, so all the big trucks were pulled to the stock yard there at Clifton. And it was on the Railroad tracks too, so I’ve spend a lot of time on the tracks .


FREDERICK: And then I married and lived on South Peterson, so I was still in Preston Hills. I grew up in the Highlands. I’ve lived most of life in Louisville within about three square miles.


FREDERICK: And I had thought when I came back here it would be temporary. I was really aiming to go to the southwest, but I really didn’t get to Arizona and New Mexico. I did go to Montana, but I didn’t get to where I thought I was going until about 2005. I hadn’t been to that part of the world really. I did make a trip to Phoenix from Mill’s College. But anyway…so about three years in this studio I was introduced to Louis Frederick, whom I married. He was a commercial artist and a collector, and a very talented man…a bit older than myself. I met him through Mary Alice Hadley. We married and had two children. Louis has since deceased. We were married for about 12 years. He was not an easy person to be married to, but I learned a lot. It seems like everything helps you to learn something else. I think I became…he thought I was a peasant girl, and I was really something very different, and geared to be independent. He had come from a Hungarian background and felt he was quite flamboyant, and an artist--he expected something different in a wife. So, then I began my life as a single person, and I hadn’t done much art during that period, and I thought, ‘Uh, it must be over!’ Because I had an art history professor who said that, ‘An artist’s most vital time is in their 20’s and early 30’s, and if it doesn’t happen then…’ I don’t know…he gave me the impression that my most vital time had passed, but it didn’t turn out to be. I had, really…when I got back to work, I had really learned so much and first thing I did was go to Maine to study at the Haystack school one summer. Then I came back to Louisville, and had started a small studio doing some African based work. I had been at Haystack in the ‘70’s, the summer that Nixon resigned. At a time when the Haystack school was trying to become more integrated, and they sponsored a lot of African- American students and faculty throughout most of the summer--either African-American professor or African artists. So it was very very exciting. And I had a Nigerian teacher--ceramic artist, and so I came back building kind of Tribal bowls and that kind of thing. But I happened to visit the ceramic department at the University of Louisville, which was then being run by Tom Marsh, who was a wonderful potter. And I’d known Tom for quite awhile and I thought, this is just too valuable of a resource to pass by, so I enrolled in school. And I had a young woman living with me. We didn’t call them nannies then, but it was a young woman who needed a place to live, and was really willing to watch my children because the classes were in the evening. That particular…at that time the course was geared towards art teachers, so people who were already teaching schools could get a masters in ceramics, and they…and teaching ceramics could. So it was really, really interesting group of people I was with, simply wonderful three years that I spent there. Tom Marsh was trained in a very traditional way. He had studied ceramics in Japan, so it was really all about classic pottery form, (Unintelligible) pieces, it was very stimulating. When I had my graduate show, I concentrated on the plate form which I’d started making in…and the reason that interested me was as a palate to decorate, and also, that was the late ‘70’s. You weren’t here, but we had incredible winters when you were just like snowed in for days. Schools closed for weeks at a time. We had two winters like that, and I was just blown away by the winter landscapes, so I was making porcelain plates and drawing on them with (Unintelligible) and painting, and that was a kind of vein that I really wanted to follow. And after I…when I was in graduate school thinking, I could justify this because then if I got a teaching job I would earn more. But, I went into a kind of non-traditional job actually. I took over running a clay studio at the Tom Sawyer Park, and actually I was paid incredibly little. I was a recreation…I was on a scale of Recreation Worker, but I had free rein to set up this studio in a wonderful little building which was called the Root Cellar. It was an old cement, stone barn, on the back side of Tom Sawyer. And that was a wonderful experience. I taught…I’ve had some really good teachers, Tom Marsh and a graduate student from Minnesota…so teaching. I had good teaching models, and I had some great students, and we put on a very large sale, a ceramic sale. We invited some more professional ceramic artists and the students all…some students signed up to work. We had semester, you might say, working towards the sale, and making work that was pottery that was appropriate for sale. So that was a big success. But really, it became very hard to work, with two children to care for at that pay scale. So um, I began to look around and think what other things I might do, and I thought maybe it’d be fun to work on Main Street. And I took a job workshop at the University of Louisville, and saw that I was qualified to do things like floral. And I was on that side of the scale, but I had signed up to do a show at a small…one of the few galleries in town, run by Fred Merida, a local artist and gallery. He now lives in Western Kentucky, but he and his wife are both artists and I was due to have a show there. In the mean time I’d signed up to take typing, and it just, I just, the show convinced me I could do it. I’d met an artist named Marcia Silverman, who was a highly professional, nationally known ceramic artist; her husband Jack Firestone was manager of the Louisville orchestra, which is what got them to Louisville and she said, I said, ‘How will I ever make enough money?’ And Marcia said, ‘Sarah, if you’re, if you get in the right groove, it’s not a matter of making enough money, it’s matter of making enough work.’ Which is kind of how it turned out to be and in the ‘70’s. The people who made it, who made a lot of work were people like married couples who could come to the fair with volumes of work. And there were a lot of studios like that in the upper mid-west, like Michigan and Minnesota, where a guy would set up a studio, and young artists like myself would go there and throw all the pots, kind of (unintelligible) in England. So making enough work…So what I geared myself toward was getting into some of the big national shows where supposedly you could sell a lot work, and my stepping stones to that were the Kentucky Guild, doing the Kentucky Guild fairs which were fabulous…where I made some of my best lifetime friends…still friends…artists who many of whom who were living, back -- to -- the - landers who’ve moved to Kentucky from somewhere else because of the inexpensive land. And many of them have moved to Cincinnati, Lexington, Danville and mainly because as their children grew older they felt they needed something other than rural education. But, that was a great group of people and the craft fairs were fun, and they were pretty good for money making. And I got into my first gallery, the Appalachian Fireside Gallery…around Jerry Workmen…a very intense person, but the kind of person one needs in the world of Fine Art.

WILLIHNGANZ: I interviewed Jerry for this.




WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. I was wondering. What year did you join the Guild?

FREDERICK: Well…I had finished graduated school, so it must have been about ‘78 or ‘79.


FREDERICK: And it was about that time that I also met Wayne, who hung around (Unintelligible) a lot, and Wayne was a real star at the (Unintelligible) fairs. He just had such wonderful work. It was sculptural, you’ll see. Um, so, the Guild fairs…in then…that was the really wonderful era, when Phyllis George was the Governor’s wife and took on Kentucky crafts when Al and Mary Shands were coming to the (Unintelligible) fairs and buying work. And then there was the development of the Kentucky Craft Foundation. And so, I came in at a really really very good time. They were working with the state. There was, at that time I think, that it was a separate department. I’m not sure at the exact configuration, but what I knew was the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program, and I think (Unintelligible) was there from the beginning. And they had a couple of shows. I was in one of their first shows and I was still making kind of an electric kiln fire porcelain work, little vases and things like that. And I sold things to a department store chain called (Unintelligible). And so I had my first experience with getting out orders and that kind of thing. I did a few more of those at one of the markets, at that time; I had started to do a different kind of work. I had gone to a workshop in Tennessee at the Appalachian Craft Center, which was at that time a specially set up place by the Congressman from Tennessee. It’s on I-40 a little bit east of Nashville, beautiful place, on a big lake, and it was designed by a woman named Susan Peterson…who’s very big in crafts, a writer, and a curator. And they had an extraordinary faculty, and they had wood, ceramics, glass-blowing, and probably some fiber arts. And I studied ceramics with three fabulous teachers: Cynthia Bringle, Sandy Simon, and oh, I can never remember the other guys name, but Joe Bova, Joe Bova, who taught at LSU. And from Sandy Simon I learned to paint on pots. She had little paint brushes called Daggers Strikers that are used in the auto, in to doing auto design…that kind of thing. And she was using something called glaze stains which were ceramic grade pigments…what’s used basically at that time to make your refrigerator avocado green or harvest gold. They were products for the ceramic professional enameling and professional ceramic industry. But, she figured out how to get them and they were available to artists, so I came back and started painting on everything. I painted on bowls and porcelain, terra cotta…and it was the terra cotta…were…they seemed to go the fastest. I, I think I didn’t bring upstairs. Here’s the little…a little plate that’s now broken. But I did all kinds of painting on big pieces, small pieces, and you’ll see some of those in the slide show that I have. And it was very exciting, it was kind of um…it it became the most exciting part of the work for me, the decorating. Well, I called it the romance of ceramics or something like that. It was just when I would go into the basement, I had then moved in with my children to a large 1907 frame house in Crescent Hill. I had a studio in the downstairs back porch. I rented the first floor, but I borrowed back the back porch from my tenant who’d been a student of mine at Tom Sawyer Park, and I went from there to the basement, the usual first studio in the basement. So, at this second or third Kentucky Crafts Market I went to I met so many people who said, ‘This is really nice, you should take this to Chicago’. And was like, ‘Oh wow, that sounds kind of like…I’m not sure I can do that with two children and’. I knew that sending around slides was…kind of like they probably got left on a desk. So it was at that time that I began to really work hard to get into the American Craft Council shows. And for me it was more of an art aide, it was kind of on the side line, an income gain. But, it turned out to be how I made a living. I went to my first big show which had lots of people that I knew from the magazines, and it was, it was scary and very exciting. This is a (unintelligible), I took everything I’d ever made practically-porcelain, terra cotta, big, small, sculptural. And a man named Jerry Williams who used to edit a magazine called Studio Pottery, I’ve known him in Boston because we visited his studio for my art school, and he came by and said, ‘Who made all of this?’ And um, the things that sold were this, this terra cotta with this kind of matte finish that I’ve developed, and um…for instance, I’d always loved this wreath that my Grandmother had had of Mexican fruit, and I have one I can show you, it’s downstairs. So, on this…during a summer when I was teaching a workshop in Nelson County, they had some this old fruit and I started baking fruit pieces. They were decorate…and then I decorated them, and they were really pretty nice. And I took them to the show just as kind of, well accent pieces in my display. A very, very stylishly dressed woman came in and said, looked around, she said, ‘Well, I’d like to have three dozen of these. I’m from the Dallas Museum of Art’. So, that was kind of how it began. I came home with…I don’t know about the first show, probably about $4,000 worth of orders.



WILLIHNGANZ: That’s terrific.

FREDERICK: But that’s how it worked. You took your stuff and the people were there, and it was the 80s…this was I think ‘84. There was a lot of money--a lot of wealth. A friend of mine told me, ‘Well, if you really make it, I have to tell you, you will no longer be selling to your friends, you’ll be selling to wealthy people who are buying it because their partners have one’ . It, it didn’t matter. It was…it was a very exciting kind of way to go because the shows were fun to do. My friend Rand Haslet, who went with me once as assistant, called us urban gypsies because we go there in our blue jeans and our overalls, and we’re doing (unintelligible) work, setting up. Then, we’d change into our art clothes. And then we’d go out to a wonderful restaurant to eat in some wonderful city. So, that again was a great friend making, and work trading, and challenging. So, Marshall was right, it was about how much work you made. So my first assistant was a Brit, the brother-in-law of friends of mine who’d come for three months stay in the States--in Louisville. And he had recently trained to become a potter. So he came to work for me and he was a very, very charming fellow. He smoked a lot of cigarettes and didn’t come to work ‘til noon ever, but he had been trained in the British way, and he said, ‘Okay.’ My studio looked kind of like my house, full of objects and he said, ‘First thing we have to do is get rid of your three dimensional, your three dimensional studio, or I forget how he put it, it was funny. So we need to take all the objects away, build shelves in a kind of English fashion…which was good. Those shelves stayed in my basement right through. So, that’s where my business began to grow, and I did go with a kind of low (unintelligible). I really wish I had more of it to show you, but the charm of it was the surface, this kind of matte finish surface. So these were gray stains mixed in a, mixed with slip and a little bit of flux to keep them to stay on the clay. And that’s what colors the clay…and its…its permanent, and it has a kind of velvety finish which is a lot of the charm of it. So the way the main design feature came up, I can show you in the slide show, but not with this. There are little crocheted clothes and things like that that are used in many ceramic studios to stamp in clay. This texture, and because painting an image on everything I did, as I did in the beginning fruit, and you know, that was like making little canvases. So, what I began to do was just to lay a piece of, of some kind of crochet, and I have some I could show you, but they’re not here right now, and then putting in a pattern and then drawing on that, and then it ended being all pattern, like this. And this was one of my…really this was my bread and butter item, this is a little…I then had a later…had an assistant who was a Berea student and she said, ‘Oh, Sarah, we could make oil lamps’. And I said, ‘No way. That sounds…I didn’t like the idea of making oil lamps, but we developed this way of making them with this little flower top and this pattern and this was really my big bread and butter item. I sold thousands of these, I’d have to say, over time. They got better as they went along, and this is again the crochet. And people would say ‘How did you do that?’ And they didn’t somehow recognize that it was, you know, old placemats and doilies and that kind of thing. So right through my work, there was a way that is was both thrown and hand built…a lot of jars…I really wish I had more to show you, but it’s mostly gone, sold. But, many of the jars…I never had liked making lids and this came about at a Berea craft fair. I had some, sort of bigger jars…some of the jars I’d made, and I had little lids that just plain fell off. They weren’t well made. And my daughter put a green delicious apple into this jar and it looked so good. So that was something I made a lot of, these kind of, these kinds of things. And teapots made that way…and we made serving bowls…large bowls in large organic forms, which you can find in my slide show. I have a pretty good, a pretty good photographic record of those pieces. So, ‘84, ‘85, ‘86…in ‘86 I had an employee that I got by advertising in a craft magazine, and he was an Iraqi man, a young man who had left Iraq at the time of Sadaam Hussein and was not able to go back because he would have been a draft dodger and whatever. He was here for keeps, and he was between undergraduate school and graduate school and he came from a manufacturing family. He was a potter, and he really helped bring my business to another level. There were many steps that we were able to do in a more practical way. We did…we stopped hand building the large jars. We made big molds and we coiled inside so everything was still hand built, but we made everything faster. And that, that helped a lot that we could get out lots and lots of work. I went to a show in West Springfield, Massachusetts. I’m not sure exactly when that was…maybe ‘88--’89. And I took so many orders that I had to say sold out, because I had taken orders from…this was June through June of the next year. And then I learned there were people who wanted it even in the next year. So, at that point, you know, I was not a likely person to have come to that kind of place in my life…very shy girl…lived mostly in my head and here I am the prom queen, you know.

WILLIHNGANZ: How old were you at that point?

FREDERICK: Um…42 or 3…Yeah. I’ve always lived kind of a generation behind because of going to school and starting out in my forties, so I’m, I have a lot of friends in the baby boomer generation even though I’m older. Anyway, so that was great. So the way it turned out, I was really able to make a living. I was able to put a new roof on the house. I was able to buy a new car…things I never thought would be possible. And I was able to um…um…save money. I started my first account; uh what was it, a mutual fund, Yeah. So it was all good, it was um, in the, in the beginning like most things, more fun. In the beginning I had too many people working. I had to get it back to where there was one person who was throwing, one person who was doing the hand building who also did the packing, usually, and then a person in the basement who did the decorating. And then I, at that time had, had repaired a garage, an old three car frame garage in the back of my big house, and I worked out there. But, because we were busy often, somebody else had to work with me. And then, there was the management, and all the billing, the contact with customers. I actually liked my contacts with galleries. That turned out they were people like myself trying to make a living. People would say, ‘But you have to give them fifty percent’. But hey, they’re selling it for you and they pay for it to be shipped to them, so that was how it went. I have a friend named William who probably still works as a manager at the August Moon and Fong Chu. A Louisville artist, who worked for me briefly, brought William in. I remember William in the basement packing any kind of boxes we could find with newspaper. And it got to the place that we were ordering craters, big, big stiff corrugated boxes from a place in Tennessee, Southern Indiana and they’d come in big van and we’d have to drive our pick-up truck down to the end of the alley and bring them in. And people would come into the yard and say, ‘Is this really a business?’ You know, because it looked like a house, and then they’d go down into the basement and they’d see. So, I longed for a little time off, and I had a brief residency at a place called The Marie Anderson Center in Southern Indiana in 1990 and I was fired up for time off, time to work on my own, which I managed to get. I was accepted as a summer resident at the Archie Brae Foundation in Helena, Montana, which is a fabulous kind of mecca for ceramic artists. It’s in Helena, which is kind of in the middle of not much…small, very interesting kind of granola towns…State Government is there. That was a really fabulous experience and at that point, I really longed to work by myself and…not run a business. I couldn’t see any way, and I was also coming to the time when I could collect on my mutual fund, fifty-nine and a half, and so…um…I began to work towards it. From that time on, I was thinking, so it wasn’t ‘til 1996 that that happened, then it ended. I wrote something pretty good at that time as well, that I’ll read you little parts of. Here it is. This was in a craft journal and it was called, ‘The Last Notes of a One Woman Band’. And it was like saying thanks for the contract to advertise. I will be in Costa Rica in winter and not at the big shows. Let me get my original copy cause that one didn’t print out very well, that part of my life.

‘In 1984 my staff and I didn’t know if we were up to the challenge of getting out the seemingly endless volume of work requested. But we got better as we went along. It was a good learning experience, figuring out how to put time consuming hand built pieces into production. I had some very talented people working for me, and have paid them well as well as the business could afford. Most of the work in the beginning, and some later, came directly from one-of-a-kind pieces I had made. It was hard to turn these things over to other people, but as it happens through many repetitions; my employees often brought beauty to the shapes and surfaces that the originals did not have. Some work didn’t repeat well and had to be abandoned. At the end, we worked even more cooperative, we worked even more cooperatively with my employee’s ideas and forms becoming incorporated directly into the line. This was reflected in changing the name of the business in 1993 from Sarah Frederick Pottery to the Sarah Frederick Studio Pottery. In the beginning, it seemed to me an ideal way to work with people but I gave up a good deal of responsibility and wound up having to claim some of it back. Being in business was definitely a growth experience in people skills. Some combination of people worked well. We had two marriages and several shared pets. But overall, it was very challenging to have other people in my work environment and especially to be in charge of it all.’

Anyway, there’s more to this, but, uh, I could see that I probably didn’t have some of the skills needed. Today it would be a lot easier to be in business with Internet and so forth, and I really felt ready to end.

‘I think it takes youthful energy to strategize a business like this into the next century. So for what I call the foreseeable future, my new one person band should provide enough to live on and time to work, study, and travel. This February, instead of going to Philadelphia and Baltimore, I was in Costa Rica. These were certainly some of the most intense and memorable years of my life.’

And I said, ‘Being in a small business is a full time job, in fact it’s hard to put your feet up and feel like the day is over, because it usually isn’t.’ So…that was how that ended and I took a summer studying at Alfred University with a figurative ceramic sculptor. I did some figurative work. I persuaded him to let me into his class and that was very, very interesting.

WILLIHNGANZ: Tell me about what figurative work is.

FREDERICK: That means sculptural work about the figure.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay, so these are more like statues than…

FREDERICK: Yes, that kind of thing. And what I learned is that very small niche of the ceramic world, you know, a lot of schools don’t teach that. We in the 70s and 80s…we moved out of just pods into sculptural pods and into pure sculpture which some people do at, you know, very refined small things. Like Ron Nagel, who teaches at Mills College, now makes little cups and little things, and they’re very highly colored and they sell in the four figures.


FREDERICK: So, ceramics has come that way. I’d say right now there’s a resurgence of interest in, in hand made…in pots, in wood fired pots, in the earthy pots that were made in the 70s. But, figurative ceramic sculpture is, as I said, very small niche. Some schools teach it, some don’t. And so there were many different kinds of people in this uh, in this workshop…about 20 from all over the country. And it was fabulous and I loved doing it. We had a good model, and Alfred’s a place where you can study almost anything…probably the best ceramic library anywhere. And I thought I was pretty good at it. And my teacher seemed to be pleased with what I had done, so I came back. And at this time I’m self employed but I’m by myself, so I can go on a residency, and I can do ceramic figurative work. And that had a kind of an evolution where I’d gone as far as I could without models and going to drawing class. If you go to a drawing class, the model, the model just sits in one pose; it’s not geared to see a model as a first experience in many different ways. So when I was in a residency trying to work on the figure I’d kind of come to a place, a frustrating place and I looked out the window. And my previous high fascination with the landscape was like, ‘Oh I could make that, I could make that in clay’. And so I went right into doing that. The next summer after that, well I got a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Go ahead and yawn, you must tired .

(End of Interview Part I)