Taking the year off from travel and immersing ourselves back in the desert has reminded us why we fell in love with this beautiful place to begin with, and a huge part of that has been the creative community here in the southwest. We are thankful for the relationships we have made here and the flow of inspiration from makers around us has been infectious. We decided it was time to finally put the spotlight on some of the people that continue to inspire us, and share these wonderful makers with you.
We couldn’t think of anyone better to kick off our new Makers Series with, especially on International Women’s Day, other than the talented female ceramic artist: Ursula Basinger. We met Ursula this past year at the opening of JTH Posada after admiring her work online, and quickly became friends. We were so excited to get to know her better and hear about her new career path. She’s an inspiring artist who focuses on supporting other makers in her community and we couldn’t wait to learn about the intimate slow-paced life in the desert that she leads. Read more about her and take a peek into her jaw dropping studio below.
Where do you call home?
I live in Tucson, Arizona and feel very connected to our community and the desert that surrounds us. I moved here as a child, stayed for college at the University of Arizona and built a life here with Paul, my partner of 12 years, and Bucket, our tuxedo cat.
How did you find your way to working with ceramics?
I signed up for my first ceramics class on a whim about four years ago. I’ve always been artistically inclined, but never had a dedicated outlet for my creativity until I found the medium of clay. Largely thanks to the encouragement and interest of my friends I began selling ceramics after one year of practice. Signing up for my first market was the push I needed to really get going. Ceramics, like any skill, becomes so much more rewarding as you are able to dedicate more time and energy to it. As my passion for the craft grew I was able to gradually cut back on hours at my job in research and I transitioned to full-time making last August. If you had told me this would be my life after that first class four years ago I would not have believed it!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I always start my day off with a quick exercise and stretching routine and a big breakfast at home. After that, it tends to vary quite a bit day-to-day, and this freedom is one of my favorite parts of being self-employed. Between meetings, administrative tasks and whatnot, I fit in four to ten hours a day in the studio five days a week. Work in the studio is pretty variable because every piece requires multiple steps and progress depends on outside factors like how fast the clay is drying. Typically, I will throw a bunch of pieces on Monday through Wednesday and spend the rest of the week finishing them by trimming and adding handles. If time allows I like to end the day with a sunset walk somewhere quickly accessible like Sabino Canyon with a friend or a relaxed dinner at home with Paul.
Why do you feel it’s important to support local makers and creators?
Personally, I feel good about the purchases I make from local and independent creators. Knowing the people and stories behind the objects I bring into my home gives them value beyond their materiality. Choosing to spend money in our local economy really does make a difference, and collectively becomes a meaningful way to empower individuals and community. As a maker, I can attest that every sale fills me with gratitude and enables me to make my dreams a reality.
What has drawn you to the earth tones featured in your work?
I appreciate honesty in materials and find the natural color and texture of raw, unglazed stoneware grounding in its simplicity. I marble a lot of my work and contrasting smooth white and textured tan clay makes both elements really shine. Here in the Sonoran desert we are surrounded by stunning exposed geology, and it definitely influences my designs. I think my marbling evokes a sense of place because it is reminiscent of the swirly gneiss we see in the mountains around Tucson.
What’s one of your favorite pieces that you’ve created and why?
My collection of candlestick holders are my favorite. I came up with the designs in preparation for my first market three years ago and they have improved so much since then. The coil technique I use continues to be a hallmark of my design language, which I have expanded upon with wall hangings and ornaments. I still enjoy building candlestick holders because I continue to find ways to improve the process and I find satisfaction in this quiet growth.
When you’re not at the wheel, where are you?
When I can spend time away from the studio I love to get out in nature, whether it’s a quick hike on the edge of town or a weekend road trip to the grasslands of southern Arizona or the high desert around Sedona.
Where would your time machine go and why?
While I do enjoy the comforts of modern life, it would be amazing to travel back to the turn of the 20th century and experience a world free of conveniences like single-use plastic, air travel and smartphones. As I make an effort to live more sustainably I’ve been thinking a lot about how we lived before over-consumption was the status quo. It’s hard to imagine. I’d especially like to visit Tucson in this time period to meet the vibrant, multicultural communities living in historic adobes, then newly built and to see the Santa Cruz River, which has long run dry, when it still flowed.
Photography by Emily Tartaglia.