Today we’d like to introduce you to Carolyn Bernard Young.
Carolyn, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My work pays respect to my Choctaw heritage, and brings a modern voice to the Native American art I so love to make.
For 33 years, I was a quality engineer for a major aerospace company.
Midway through my career, looking for a way to relieve stress, I discovered and fell in love with clay.
In 2009, I was able to retire from aerospace and pursue a second career in art. Two years later, I reconnected with my long-lost love, Sam. We married and moved to a home on two acres in Weatherford where Sam built a new studio for me.
My grandmother is an original enrollee in the Choctaw tribe. I always knew we were Choctaw but didn’t realize there was documentation until my mother passed away and I found a copy of the Dawes Role in her papers. Sam encouraged me to apply for tribal membership and I received my enrollment card in 2012. This opened new doors for my work and allowed me to take my work in the direction of my heart.
While I had featured petroglyphs and other Native American images in my work, it could not be sold as Native American work since I was not a tribal member. The Indian Arts & Crafts Act of 1990 prohibits the sale of any work identified as Native American made unless created by an enrolled member of a Federally recognized tribe.
Sgraffito is my preferred technique. It literally means “to scratch”. When the clay is leather-hard, three coats of black slip is applied, then images are carved to reveal the white clay beneath for a striking contrast. My wheel-thrown work always features a surprise of bold colored glaze inside. It never fails to make people smile.
After more than 20 years working at the potter’s wheel, my hands have developed chronic tendinitis so it is difficult for me to throw. As a result, I’ve begun to explore more sculptural work and less wheel-thrown pieces.
In late 2016 I began to dream of taking my carvings to the wall, making sculpture that brings a forth an emotional connection to the story. My love of totem poles of the northwestern tribes led me to design my newest work – a totem pole for the wall, which I call a Totem Stick.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t think any art journey is without bumps along the way. For several years I experimented with glazes and functional work, but it was never as satisfying to me as sgraffito. There’s just something about carving through the slip, seeing the design emerge, that feeds my soul. I developed a line of sgraffito coffee mugs and wine cups that became very popular. Alas, as my hands became worse, I had to cut back and now only sell them once a year in a Merry Mug Madness sale on my website. Clients still come to me at shows looking for mugs to add to their collections, but they are very understanding and willing to wait for November.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Earth to Art Studio – what should we know?
My business is me – one person – making ceramic art with Native American roots. I am known for my sgraffito work featuring totems, spirit animals, and tribal stories. That work is not typical of Southeastern tribal pottery, and I am proud that my tribe has embraced my work as important, giving several pieces a place of honor in the tribal headquarters and the Choctaw Museum.
Totem Sticks are definitely setting me apart from others. The comments I hear at show after show are “I’ve never seen totem sticks before!” That makes me just a bit giddy!
But I think I’m most proud of my latest work, creating Choctaw pottery in the ancient way. Using Native Oklahoma clay, hand dug from land within the Choctaw Nation, I am hand building effigy pots, bowls, and bottles reminiscent of ancestral pottery found in excavations of the ancient southeast Indian mounds of Mississippi and Alabama. The pots are carved with designs also found on those ancestral shards, then fired in an open pit. This makes me one of only a few artists keeping the Choctaw pottery tradition alive.
I have been privileged to learn from Dr. Ian Thompson, Director of Historic Preservation for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and Chase Kahwinhut Earles, a gifted Caddo potter committed to doing it the ancient way.
And speaking of the business…I’d like to invite all your readers to my Fall Open Studio on November 4 from 11am – 5pm. We’re at 5660 Veal Station Road in Weatherford. The gate will open at 10:55. Please come and bring a friend!
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My husband, Sam, is my biggest fan and steadfast supporter. With his encouragement, my dream finally took flight. He tells everyone he’s the Maintenance Department of Earth to Art, but he’s so much more than that – sounding board, critic, research tech – you name it, he does it.
I also have a team of supporters. Alyson B. Stanfield of Art Biz Coach has helped me develop business systems & strategies to propel my micro-business forward. Pat Velte of White Wing Designs is my awesome web mistress. Danielle, my CPA and QuickBooks emergency helper keeps my bookkeeping in line. Claudia True, acrylic artist, is my accountability partner and good friend who talks me down when I’m going over the edge. Karen is my dear friend who comes when I yell for help in the studio. So, I’m a pretty lucky girl and profoundly grateful to have such a fabulous team behind me.
- Website: www.CarolynYoungCeramics.com
- Phone: 817-269-5375
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/earthtoartstudio
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/earthtoart
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/earthtoart