Handmade in Topanga

vor 3 years

A studio visit with the ceramic artist Sara Winkle

When I saw Sara Winkle’s ceramic art for the first time, I immediately fell in love. My knowledge about pottery is very limited but that did not prevent me from seeing the special beauty in her work. The curvy bodies of women she places on her plates or vases, the colors she uses (especially for her desert landscapes mugs), the shapes … Everything just feels unique and so extraordinarily pure, something that also actually reflects the German-born artist as a person, too.

We are entering the curvy, mountainous streets of Topanga, a former hippie area of ​​Los Angeles. The big trees of Theatricum Botanicum on the property of the Will Geer theater – an almost magical place with a cute outdoor stage – throw beautiful shadows onto the ground, covered by amazingly scented wood chips. We discover the pottery studio in a little wooden cottage where Sara awaits us with her adorable dog.

Hi Sara. How and when did you start working on pottery?

The first time I got in touch with clay was during my school years in Germany.
I interned at a local pottery studio in a small town not far from Frankfurt.
A beautiful little place nestled in the old town of Lich.

What made you open your own studio and why did you choose Topanga as a location?

Topanga Canyon was a place I gravitated towards because I wanted to escape the city.
I was living in LA for many years and was craving nature and more peaceful surroundings.
When my husband and I moved to the canyon I was still commuting to a clay studio in Santa Monica
where I was volunteering. Before and after work I was spending time there working on clay projects and firing the gas kiln for studio members and students. At some point an additional cabin on the property where we live became available and I decided to transform it into a private studio to have more space and easier access. It was a big step towards creative freedom
and really a dream come true to be here and create in this environment.

Tell us more about the theatricum botanicum and your space – what is the history behind?

My studio is located on the property of the Will Geer theater in Topanga
The place was established during the McCarthy era by the Geer family. Many blacklisted actors and folk singers
came through the canyon during that time including Woody Guthrie who used to live in the structure that is now my pottery studio. Later plays and concerts where part of the program and Shakespeare performances were established on the grounds. Outdoor performances are still happening every year and are part of the Topanga canyon culture. I get to work in the cabin right next to the outdoor theater. During the summer time it gets really busy on the grounds with tons of visitors enjoying the plays.

What is for you the best thing about living in Topanga and LA?

I see both locations as opposing poles and it’s astounding to me that both places exist
in such close proximity. With it’s roots in counter culture, music and the arts the small town community feel of past times still exists in Topanga. A few miles from here you have the total clash of the pulsing, noisy and colorful LA metropolis.
Both places are unique and so different from each other.

That is indeed really fascinating. Let’s talk about your cermaic How long does it usually take to learn the techniques of pottery making?

I think it takes as long as it takes to become proficient at any art or craft.talent will serve you but passion and interest to learn is the ultimate fuel to become really good at something. Once you start learning I think you realize that you never reach that point where you think you know everything. There are so many different angles to approach ceramics too even just in a scientific or artistic sense.

What is the biggest challenge of doing pottery? 

To me the acceptance of the fact that ceramics break all the time during the process of making them.
It was a big lesson to me in learning to let go.


What would you say is the most underrated side of pottery and its diversity?

That’s a good question. In the last decade ceramics made a re-appearance in pop culture and
it’s definitely a hip thing at the moment. In the art world it’s also made its mark where maybe before
it wasn’t taken as seriously as other forms of artistic expressions. I think that’s great. It’s good to remember too that pottery has been there since the beginnings of time and that’s why we are naturally drawn to it. it just feels good to play in the dirt. To make a vessel, to take a piece of clay into your hands and to make a form is a great experience. I’d like to see more pottery classes being offered in a therapeutic sense, as I see the benefits of working with clay as a meditative and healing practice.

How did you come up with the idea of ​​designing female bodies on your pottery?

I suppose like many artists I’ve been infatuated with the female figure. In a purely visual sense, as an expression of beauty and sensuality but also as a symbol of strength and power. The theme of Muse and Venus has been a subject of my work for a while now and I’ve been exploring different aspects of that. Some of the illustrations I carve onto the ceramics pieces have a soft and melancholic mood, they are intertwined with imagery of plants and nature. Some of the drawings focus on the more powerful aspects of womanhood like the image of the “venus of willendorf”. My illustrations also touch on intimate relational themes, there are lots of images of embracing and dancing women on my vessels. I think they reflect a special closeness or bond that we get to experience as women when we think of our sisters, female partners and close friends.

What would you consider to be the most powerful aspect about the female body?

Throughout the times women have been considered the weak gender which is as we know total BS. We have the unique capability and power to grow life in our bodies, the strength to bear children, to endure intense physical pain and to heal and recover from it. The female body is amazingly adaptable but also undeniably beautiful to look at and therein lies great power.

What would you consider as your biggest challenge having your own business?

Most certainly finances. I see myself as an artist more than a business owner so managing the money part
and negotiating prices for your work is always challenging. Making ceramics is time and work intensive and the rental prices around LA out of control. You have supply and equipment costs to cover and it’s pretty much an around the clock hustle to keep up with everything. But I love creating so I am doing it. The biggest reward is to see my work in people’s homes and in small shops around the states. I am extremely grateful I get to do what I love doing.

How did the pandemic affect your life as an artist?

At the beginning of covid I was pretty freaked out. There are so many people and small businesses
that have been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic and it’s a struggle everyday.
On a personal level I’ve been surprised by an outpouring of support by people that have the means
to buy handmade pieces from artists and small local shops. There has been a real push for people wanting to support and connect. As shitty as the last year has been, I’ve been really feeling the love. I have much gratitude to
all the people that bought a piece from me, sent me a personal message and posted pictures of my work.

Are you considering to distribute your work in Europe too?

So far I haven’t figured out a way to cost effectively ship internationally. I explored the idea briefly in the past but the shipping outweighed the product cost so I decided against it at the time. For larger orders I would love to consider it.
I would be super excited to have my work available in my home country, Germany.

Your message to all misses?

Keep doing what you love doing.T

Your biggest hope for 2021?

I’m expecting the rough ride to continue for a while butduring challenging times I try to remember that things always change eventually 🙂 There is much time for reflection, reading and writing and to think about what’s really important. I am hoping that travel is possible again towards the end of the year. I can’t wait to see family and friends again.

Interview by Sina Braetz
Follow Sara on Instagram , and check out her shop here

Verwandte Artikel