Meet the Artist: Rob Cartelli

Rob Cartelli’s functional and beautiful porcelain pottery was awarded the Jane and Leonard Korman Family Prize for Excellence in Clay at the 2014 PMA Craft Show.

How did you first get interested in working in your medium?

I first became interested in clay in college. Halfway through a Political Science/International Studies double major, I took an elective ceramics class and was hooked by the end of the first week. Part of the attraction was the contrast of the simplicity of clay work with my more cerebral political courses. Though there are a lot of different design considerations, a cup is a cup in form and function.

I was mesmerized the first time I saw wheel-throwing and I knew I wanted to put the time into mastering it. I just could not stop going to the clay studio. I signed up for all the classes and independent studies I could for the remainder of my college career and applied for work study positions to clean up old buckets and mop the floors just for extra studio time.

What is special about the medium you work in? How does it inform the work you create?

Clay is special for many reasons. It is quite possibly the oldest medium, meaning that playing with and using clay is a nearly innate part of being human. Ceramics are also extraordinarily permanent; any historical museum collection has pieces that date back millennia. I choose porcelain for my pots for its aesthetic quality. I like the clean simplicity of porcelain's color and texture as a foundation for my body of work. I use a clear glaze that softens the surface but allows the porcelain to speak strongly.

What do you love about your workspace or studio?

My studio is a pretty solitary place. As much as I like to socialize, working alone in dedicated space focuses me on the project at hand. What was the inspiration for a recent piece? I recently developed a new small cup form for coffee. Often, I receive requests from customers — some intriguing, some not so much. I recently started drinking espresso in small cups instead of drip coffee in a big mug. That, combined with enough people inquiring about small mugs at shows inspired me to design and make a small-sized coffee cup for my collection.

Through sketching and prototyping, I now make an 8-ounce handled cup that I'm quite fond of. It is simple in form and plays with the geometry of cylinders and squares. (Geometry was the one math class I really enjoyed in high school.) I found that, depending on perspective, a cylinder can be rectangular, so the cup itself is a straight cylinder while the handle remains circular.

Can you share a personal highlight of the 2014 PMA Craft Show — other than winning the award, of course!

There were several potters at the show last year I look up to as masters of the field and having the chance to meet them and see their work in person was a highlight for me. I also loved exploring Philadelphia, a city I really love to spend time in.

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