The Queue: Cynthia Morelli
Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in American Craft. Our Fall 2022 issue is centered on the theme "Gather" and is out now! 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.
Cynthia Morelli is part of an active clay community in Alaska, where she operates the Back Porch Gallery and helped establish the Homer Pottery Tour. A 2020 recipient of a Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship, she has brought fellow ceramists to Alaska to work with her and her wood-fire kiln. She is featured in Claire Voon’s “Kilns That Build Community” in our Fall 2022 issue.
How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I’m immersed in a series called Core Reverberations, exploring the emotions contained in the space created by our rib cage and pelvis. It stems from my search for how tenderness can be viewed as vitality, how quiet gentleness can be perceived as strength, and what those qualities look like in my work.
In your work you say that you are looking for a definition of female that is “raw, impulsive, explosive and exuberant: formidable enough to survive, thrive and be playful.” How does that play out technically in your work?
I find the marks from the movement of the clay beautiful and fresh. I try to touch the clay in ways that leave in the expressiveness of the material. The Core Reverberations pieces are composed of clay parts carved from solids or thick slabs, and assembled from stretched parts that sometimes broke or tore during the stretching. I mend the tears, allowing the overlaps and finger-marked joints to show. In the reductive segments, the cut markings are left by carving tools when they drag chunks of impurities from the local clay. Other additives, such as perlite, lend visual rawness. I don’t often smooth them over, and I try to not overwork them. It’s the same with other materials that become part of the sculptures, such as grasses that bend with time and sea whip skeletons that catch air currents and cause the suspended clay sculpture to move.
This might be unruly, and that is okay with me. It’s similar in the unpredictable way that the fire interacts with my work during wood-firing. The energy I bring when I’m making is usually joyful. My own exchange with the materials I use is vigorous and intuitively impulsive. I think the work becomes more alive the more I can stay out of my head and be physically and visually present. The playfulness and the feelings I experience while working equates to thriving. This exuberant energy, in my opinion, is transmitted into my work.
How does your location in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula affect your practice and your arts community?
My town, Homer, has an active clay community of quite a few functional potters. Starting shortly before the pandemic, we began interacting with each other to build the Homer Pottery Tour that takes place annually in May. That has given us a positive sense of working together for a common goal. That said, Alaska is far from the Lower 48, which means it’s expensive to attend gatherings such as NCECA or Women Working with Clay Symposium. As a sculptor, I feel that distance.
During the pandemic, participation in a broader community became more accessible through Zoom. Coincidentally, I also received a grant to invite artists here from outside Alaska. Last fall, Lindsay Oesterritter came to teach a hands-on reduction-cooling wood-fire workshop. That was followed by a six-week artist-driven residency (also a part of the grant) of making work and firing my anagama together, bringing in Amanda Gentry, Heidi Kreitchet, and Zoë Powell. The past year has been invigorating for me—I’ve been using my kiln to grow my community and sharing with my community in new ways.
What’s one of your go-to / favorite tools in your tool kit that the world should know about?
Two tools that I use for carving clay come to mind. One is a six-inch loop made from a serrated band saw blade. I love the slightly uncontrolled floppiness it has and the marks that the teeth of the blade leave. The other is a wire tool made from a thick wrapped-wire guitar string. I use it as a carving loop held between both hands. It is flexible, so I can change the curve as I cut and pull it through the clay.
If today you could have any craft artists’ work for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
Linda Sormin’s work strikes me as magical chaos. It makes my mind exclaim “Wow!” with wonder and delight.
Which artists, craft exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
Alaskan artist Amber Webb’s Qaspeq Project commemorates and raises awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Her ink paintings on wood are also amazing work—graphic and full of storytelling. Awilda Sterling Duprey, based in Puerto Rico, makes work at the intersection of performance and visual art. Her improvisations are exuberant motion that leave behind bold visual works.
What are you working on right now?
At this moment, I’m working on filling our freezers with wild salmon, wild berries, and vegetables that I cultivate in my garden. I have also opened my Back Porch Gallery for regular hours this summer, so I’m tending to that and spending time on marketing. My studio is quiet but I’m preparing for a residency at the Hambidge Center in Georgia this fall. It’s in collaboration with a lifelong artist friend, Isabell Daniel. We are working toward our first exhibit together.
Inspired by the people featured in The Queue?
Dive deeper into their work in the pages of American Craft magazine. Become a member of the American Craft Council to get a subscription and help fund a range of nonprofit programs that elevate the craft community.