Master potter unveils mythical sculpture series beyond clay

Master potter unveils mythical sculpture series beyond clay

Master potter unveils mythical sculpture series beyond clay
Kathy Kearns drew inspiration from her Greek heritage for her mythological sculpture series. (Contributed photo)

John NakanishiCONCORD, CA (Jan. 25, 2024) — I met Kathy Kearns at Red Ox Clay Studio in Concord when I took her wheel-throwing class. She has a pleasant, familiar teaching style, and her class inspired me to throw on the wheel after years away from the art.

Yet there is much more to Kearns than teaching how to throw pottery.

She got her hands on clay very early in her life. She began developing her skills as a potter when her mother, an artist herself, put a pottery wheel in their garage.

In high school, Kearns met Betty Woodman, an accomplished ceramic artist who became Kearns’s good friend and pottery mentor. At her urging, Kearns attended the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, earning a BFA with honors. From there, Kearns obtained a master’s degree from the University of Colorado.

Art with design and function

After pursuing art using other materials, Kearns was drawn back to clay and realized her passion as a potter. She enjoys the way functional pots combine art with everyday living. More than just a piece of art to be enjoyed visually, her work is handled and used by many people in a hands-on way.

“I believe that using and living with a well-designed and handmade functional object brings a quality experience to the everyday act of living,” states Kearns.

In the late 1990s, chef Philippe Jeanty commissioned her to produce French cassoulet bowls for his restaurant, Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. She now has a whole line of beautiful cassoulet dishware, filling a demand for this style of crockery used for traditional oven-baked French stew.

Delving into mythology

After her mother died in 2014, Kearns wanted to learn more about her Greek heritage. She made her first trip to Greece in 2016 and has tried to visit regularly since then. While at an artist session at the Mudhouse Residency in Crete in 2021, she created some small sculptures based on what she was seeing and feeling in this ancient part of the world.

Upon returning home, she used these sculptures as models for larger sculptures that she calls her mythological sculpture series. They are an exciting departure from Kearns’s functional wheel-thrown vessels.

“It’s working in a different way than I’ve been working for a long time and giving myself permission to do that,” Kearns shares. After years of focusing on always keeping things symmetrical, Kearns is enjoying the freedom of asymmetry with her figurines.

Her mythological sculptures are unique, imparting a feeling of antiquity and a sense of ancient civilizations. As with many ancient sculptures, her pieces seem to evoke mysterious stories.

“My intention is not to represent any specific myth, but rather to create a personal and universal expression of states of being,” says Kearns. This series is one that is personal and exciting to her as it draws her closer to her Greek heritage and her family ties to the Peloponnese region of Greece.

Artist talk in Oakland

The firing technique Kearns uses for her figurines, in a large anagama kiln, adds a feel of antiquity. She enjoys the results that the wood-burning kiln creates on the surfaces of her pieces. The melted wood ash and other natural markings that result from the heat and flames create a complementary façade to the primal appearance of the sculptural forms.

Kearns has just begun on this new journey of discovery. “I don’t really know where they are going to go, and I’m not trying to control that too much,” says Kearns.

You can see some of Kearns’s work through January at the Transmission Gallery in Oakland. The gallery is presenting an Artists’ Talk, featuring Kearns and Toru Sugita, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20. You can also take her classes at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and Red Ox Studio in Concord.

To learn more about Kathy Kearns, view her artwork or sign up for her newsletter, visit ­

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John Nakanishi
John Nakanishi

John Nakanishi is treasurer of The Concord Art Association. He is an acrylic painter and a ceramic artist. When John isn’t creating art, he coaches soccer for East Bay Eclipse, a competitive soccer club based in Moraga. He is also an avid trail runner, enjoying runs from 5 miles to 50K.