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Ceramicist Rebecca Koop helps others build with their hands

Former college ceramics instructor Rebecca Koop offers classes in her Back Door Pottery studio in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood. “Art was just something very natural to me,” she says. “I like creating something out of nothing.”
Former college ceramics instructor Rebecca Koop offers classes in her Back Door Pottery studio in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood. “Art was just something very natural to me,” she says. “I like creating something out of nothing.” Special to The Star

Rebecca Koop has always been a creator. She remembers cutting, pasting and making with anything her parents would let her touch as a child. A trip to the Plaza Art Fair while she was growing up turned her on to pottery.

The former William Jewell College ceramics instructor, who helped start the Kansas City Clay Guild, offers classes in her Back Door Pottery studio in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood.

She has been in the former hardware store for over thirty years. She sold her work a the Kansas City Renaissance Festival for many years, but these days sticks to two shows a year, the UNplaza Art Fair held in concurrence with the Plaza Art Fair each September and Creative Hand Show & Sale held at Old Shawnee Town in November.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. I have been a creative since I was 3 years old. I’ve always made stuff. I made things to entertain myself. I made paper forts and barns for my brother and sister to play with. My parents were very supportive and gave me all the crayons, construction paper and glue I ever wanted. Art was just something very natural to me. I like creating something out of nothing. I used a lot of recycled material. I can see something, and see something else being made out of it.

Q. How did you get into pottery?

A. It was a trip to the Plaza Art Fair. My parents took us down there, and I liked the great imagery. I saw the potters were actually selling things. I thought it was really cool. It was three dimensional and great colors. I got interested in it because I’m really more of a maker — a sculptor. I can draw, and I can paint and do those kinds of things, but I really like the three-dimensional realm. I also like the functionality of it — how does it work? How do you use it? How do you enjoy it?

Q. What is the best thing about clay work?

A. There are different parts I like. I like figuring out a new form — like a new teapot shape. It does take a little time and work to do that. There’s the artful part, not just the creative part. It is about the decisions you make to create a lovely piece or a piece that functions well. I like the satisfaction of getting an object that just clicks. There’s a satisfaction of making it, and then making another one. You get into a zone.

Q. What would you recommend to someone interested in getting started?

A. Start with hand building. Don’t even try to approach the wheel. Everybody is seduced by the potter’s wheel. It is moving. It is hypnotic. Start with our hands first. You’ve had your hands all your whole life. You know how to use your hands. You know how to beat things and mold things. When you use a potter’s wheel, you’re using a tool. You are using a machine that you have to operate, very similar to driving a car. Think about the first time you got in a car. It’s clumsy at first. You have to maneuver a lot of things, and it can be frustrating when you start. It’s so much easier to roll out clay in sheets. Do coils and construct things out of clay. You will have more instant gratification. That’s why I do the raku class — it’s a hand building class. I have all the tools here. You can cut and assemble and build.

Q. What is raku?

A. Raku is a fast-fire process. It is hand building and firing, kind of an Americanized Japanese tradition. I think it’s everything every child and adult wants to do, get dirty and play with fire. We fast-fire the pieces. We pull them out red-hot and put them in a bucket to temper them and change the glaze color.

Q. Is this an instant gratification craft?

A. This is a craft about process. You do have to invest some time into it. Hand building goes a little quicker, but you still have to let it dry. There’s a process to it. It can take several weeks or a month, maybe even six weeks, but there’s so much gratification in working with something wet, and it’s alive. You’ve got it there in front of you. Even though it’s not finished, you physically have your hands in something. I think people do need to make a little investment in themselves and in the time. It’s kind of like your soul goes into your work.

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