Maker City KC

Kate Schroeder’s work reflects her life experiences through botany, braille and bad words

Kate Schroeder is one of Kansas City’s foremost ceramicists. She became interested in clay when she was a little girl, spending hours of her childhood making every possible household item for her dollhouse out of polymer clays. She made miniature VCRs, tapes, tubs of Gack, mini lunchables, scrunchies, hair brushes, plungers and more. “My dolls lived a very rich and cultured early 90s lifestyle,” Kate says. She discovered water based clay/ceramics while in high school and hasn’t looked back since. She currently owns two businesses, Neat! Artist Studio (naughty and nice word Braille jewelry) and Kate Schroeder Ceramics (intricate and functional ceramic sculptures featuring succulents and other botanicals).

Kate graduated from Lee’s Summit High School and went on to earn a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Ceramics from the University of Central Missouri, then a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is currently a Red Star Career Resident at Belger Crane Yard Studios. After grad school, she spent several years as a program manager of a non-profit which specialized in teaching art to people with disabilities.

While teaching pottery at the Kansas State School of the Blind, Kate started writing in Braille on ceramics so her students could find their own pots on the shelves after they had been fired. She realized she could use this technique to create necklaces, earrings, cufflinks and coffee cups with Braille words on them. This creative idea became so popular, she was able to turn it into its own business, using the accessories as a way to help educate the public on different cultures and raising awareness for a language that most people encounter on a daily basis without even noticing. She forms clay into rectangles and uses a process she developed to create the raised Braille dots. After they are fired in a kiln, she paints 18 or 22k white or yellow gold plating onto the raised dots and sells them under Naughty or Nice categories. Some of her “Nice” words are: adventure, believe, brave, faith, friend, hope, love, thankful, and travel. We can’t write the words that fall into the “Naughty” category here but you can find them on her website. She says she sells 80% more naughty words than she does nice words.

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Simultaneously, Kate was always creating beautiful botanical-themed works, inspired by her matrilineal line. Her great grandmother earned a PhD in botany in the 1930s and was also an artist. Kate calls her “my feminist icon”. Her mother and grandmother owned a flower shop during Kate’s childhood, where she essentially grew up, and she has loved and been inspired by botanical forms ever since. Her great grandmother would paint with her in this very flower shop, developing her love for flora, their symbolism and design. Through her now-famous succulent line, which includes coffee cups, vases, platters and more, she sculpts the intricate forms of the succulents, petal by petal, then paints their vivid colors, layer by layer. Symbolic details are represented in many aspects of this work. “Succulents and cacti are excellent at adapting and surviving in harsh environments, but also have the ability to easily and quickly succumb to death when given over-abundant care. Traditionally aloe and succulents symbolize healing and luck. Cacti symbolize protection and endurance. This symbolism is significant because each of the women in my genetic line has endured great challenges in life, and have adapted to the situation with grace and perseverance,” Kate says.

When asked about the success of the hyper realistic succulent sculptures that encrust functional pottery forms, Kate says she had no idea how quickly this body of work would garner success, “It’s honestly been one of the most artistically rewarding experiences of my life. I say this because I never dreamed that I could use my passion for making sculpture and miniatures (that I developed as a child making sculpt-y creations for my dolls) with my career as a potter.” She has always loved to make sculptures, but didn’t see it as a way to make a living. Spending the last seven years making and selling pottery and jewelry, it has been a complete joy for her to return back to her sculptural roots, and still have a connection with her functional line. While this line was not the catalyst for quitting her day job, it has allowed Kate to transition her business primarily online, where she can sell her art in the comfort of her own home, wearing sweatpants.

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While she doesn’t participate in as many maker fairs as she used to, Kate thinks the maker community here in Kansas City is one of the most amazingly supportive groups of people that she has ever known. “For the most part, we are all in this weird little world together. The strongest among us are those that see this community as a place where collaboration and support makes us stronger, and competition and ugliness do nothing but bring us down,” she says. Her advice for up-and-coming makers is to “work your butt off, make your work stand out, and be kind to fellow makers. No one will hand you this life on a platter. It takes blood, sweat and tears to make it. But luckily you will have an amazing community to bandage your wounds, sweat right alongside you, and wipe away those tears.”

You can find Kate Schroeder next at The Red Star Resident Artist group exhibition Amalgam’s opening night at the Belger Arts Gallery, 2011 Tracy Road, KCMO 64108, Friday, May 3rd from 6-9pm and at The Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair’s Spring Swing, 8201 State Line Road, Saturday, May 11th from 10AM-4PM.

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