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The Queue: Alana Cuellar

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Alana Cuellar

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Spring 2023 issue of American Craft magazine
Portrait of ceramicist Alana Cuellar in studio
Blog post cover graphic for The Queue featuring Alana Cuellar
Cover of the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft magazine

Welcome to the vessel series of The Queue.
A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in the pages of American Craft magazine. Our Spring 2023 issue (cover pictured right) is centered on the theme vessel and will start hitting mailboxes in late February! Join now to reserve your copy. In The Queue, we invite the inspiring individuals featured in this issue to share personally about their lives and work as well as what's inspiring them right now.

Alana Cuellar focuses on the functional.
Alana Cuellar is a second-generation potter who lives and works in the St. Croix Valley along the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The daughter of potter Guillermo Cuellar, she grew up immersed in handmade objects. “These kinds of objects feel essential to me,” she says. A yearly participant in and future host for the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour, Cuellar makes functional pottery intended for daily use. Janet Koplos wrote about the pottery tour, now in its 31st year, in “Potteryland” in the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft.

alanacuellar.com | @alanacuellar

Portrait of ceramicist Alana Cuellar in studio

Alana Cuellar. Photo by Photo by Paul Howe.

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
My practice is rooted in repetition and variation. I use a wheel, which lends itself to working in series. I move between producing forms I feel somewhat comfortable making, letting those evolve naturally, and the riskier effort of deliberately exploring new ideas and failing a lot. My heart can only handle so much!

What are you working on right now?
I’ve been figuring out how to incorporate relief carving into some of my wheel-thrown pots and on small tiles. It’s been a sneaky way of learning about drawing while still working in three dimensions. I’m also making luminarias, maybe as a response to the dark season here in the Upper Midwest.

Who and what—craftspeople, artists, ideas, books, music, nature, etc.—inspires your work?
Historical pottery (lately I’ve been looking at a lot of medieval Persian ceramics) and home cooking are big sources of inspiration. I love to cook, and pottery is a big part of that. Clary Illian’s pots and her book A Potter’s Workbook helped me learn to see form and think about what makes a pot work visually and practically.

You are a second-generation potter and work with your father, Guillermo Cuellar. How does this lineage affect your practice?
Guillermo makes functional pots intended for use by everyday people. This goal shapes the studio rhythm, firing style, material choices—every aspect of the process where we often work together. I have found great freedom within the parameters created by this approach. I don’t know where my work will lead me, but I suspect this ethos—pots for people to use in their daily lives—will underpin my practice for a long time.

Ceramic bowl by Alana Cuellar
Ceramic pitcher by Alana Cuellar

LEFT: Alana Cuellar, Bowl with relief carving, 2022, stoneware clay, slip, glaze, stain, 3 x 7 in. RIGHT: Alana Cuellar, Pitcher, 2022, stoneware clay, glaze, stain, 4.5 x 4 x 7 in. Photos courtesy of Alana Cuellar.

You live and work in the St. Croix Valley, which has a vibrant arts community and famous pottery tour. Describe how living there informs you as an artist.
I think living here makes it possible for me to make a living as a potter. Many potters have worked for decades to make the St. Croix Valley what it is today. Aside from cultivating a regional audience, these potters have also provided a model for many emerging potters, myself included. I feel lucky to be here.

If you could have any contemporary craft artist’s work for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
I am very excited to check out pots from Beth Bolgla, a new guest potter on the 2023 St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. I would love to have a piece of furniture from Kevin Reiswig in my home. Maria Davila and Eduardo Portillo’s textiles are beautiful too.

Ceramic garlic pot by Alana Cuellar
Portrait of ceramicist Alana Cuellar in studio

LEFT: Alana Cuellar, Garlic Pot, 2022, Stoneware clay, glaze, 7 x 5 in. Photo courtesy of Alana Cuellar. RIGHT: Portrait of Alana Cuellar. Photo by Paul Howe.

Which artists, craft exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
Liz Born and Gabe Hoare are the printmakers behind Hoofprint, a studio on the South Side of Chicago; they are a great resource to artists and are wonderful humans. Vessels for the Human Spirit is an upcoming film about the ceramicist David MacDonald. I look forward to learning more about his life and work, as I’m sure many potters do. The film is a project of Osa Atoe, Amilcar Navarro, and the Kaabo Clay Collective. To donate in support of this project and learn more, visit potterybyosa.com.

Stack of four issues of American Craft with Winter 2023 on top

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