The potter's hand: Greta Michelle Joachim transforms memories into art

Potter Greta Michelle Joachim has found a way to recreate her childhood memories and traditions, immortalising them in clay. - PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON
Potter Greta Michelle Joachim has found a way to recreate her childhood memories and traditions, immortalising them in clay. - PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON

Memories cannot be relived, but potter Greta Michelle Joachim has found a way to recreate her fond childhood memories and traditions.

Things like sharing meals with her parents and grandparents and trips to the beach on Sundays, she said, inspire her and she replicates them in clay.

"Iconic and traditional things like enamel cups and plates, cocoa pod, sea shells – all those things are factored into my work... The enamel cup in clay, complete with the coloured rim and rust spot."

Joachim also makes tumblers and bowls and said her pieces are functional and not just for show.

"It’s about some of the things I used to enjoy as a child, like spending time with my family. As a society we hardly spend time as a family eating a meal because everyone is always on a device and there is no eye contact. My aim is to elevate the experience of eating and drinking by making hand-made functional wares. I want my pieces to be used and interacted with. I do soda firing using porcelain clay body, and during the firing process I introduce sodium carbonate into the kiln. It attaches itself to the pot and acts like a glaze. All my pieces are hand-made and fired that way."

Greta Michelle Joachim in the final stages of creating a clay pitcher. - PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON

Joachim said her work has been exhibited at the University of Jacksonville in Florida, Plough Gallery in Georgia, and last year at a virtual exhibit at the Charlie Cummings Gallery in Gainesville, Florida. In October it will again be exhibited in Gainesville.

"They (Charlie Cummings Gallery) have an annual cup show. Last year's show was where my cocoa tumblers debuted. I had five cups in that show and they were all sold. This year they invited me back to exhibit at Cup the Intimate Object XVII and the cups are already on their ways to Gainesville.

The 53-year-old is an art teacher at the Southern Academy of Seventh-day Adventists, and fell in love with pottery in 2013 while doing a degree in fine arts at the UWI.

"When I started working on the wheel it was as if I had found my home. Clay is not just work, it’s fun too," she told WMN.

She said she has a degree in history and literature, but when she started exploring her creative side she decided to get formal training in art. Eventually, she said, because of how expensive art supplies are, she decided it was too costly a hobby to maintain and it was time for it to start paying for itself. This signalled the birth of ArtbyGretaMichelle.

She said the business idea came to her when her mentor, sculptor Bunty O’Connor invited her to an open studio.

"My work was well received by people. I posted images on my social media pages and website and people started to show interest. Some of my customers have reached out to me saying as soon as they start using the items things come back to them, like rainy days, eating roast bake, drinking cocoa tea."

She uses the cocoa pod shell as a stamp for one of her lines. "They resemble cocoa pods, but they are cups and tumblers that you can actually use."

She said her husband, daughter and granddaughter have all been part of the whole clay journey, because she sees them as she tells her clay stories. But, she said, she also uses the traditional medium to write other types of stories.

Greta Michelle Joachim’s clay pieces, including cups, tumblers and bowls, are functional and not just for show.
- PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON

"One of my short stories was published in Caribbean Writer last year. It was about a man who was not too keen about growing old."

She also writes a devotional piece for the annual general conference of SDA Women’s Ministry publication.

Joachim said as she prepared for the reopening of school, the initial challenge of navigating online classes was no longer there, as she is now quite used to and enjoys the routine. At the start of the covid19 pandemic she had many concerns because she had family members with comorbidities and her husband fell within the essential worker category. Eventually, she said, for her own peace of mind she just avoided "getting caught up with all the negativity" and did what she loves doing – cooking and baking, spending time with her family, and telling her stories.

Greta Michelle Joachim focuses on moulding a pitcher. - PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON

"I filtered out the negativity and made sure I was mentally stable. In the beginning I had stopped working because I felt nobody would want to buy ceramics. In mid-April, last year, I went back to my studio as people were asking for pieces."

Joachim hopes to expand her customer base in time, taking her memories and traditions to the regional and wider international market.

Follow ArtbyGretaMichelle on Facebook and Instagram. Her pieces are also available at 36 Cornelio, Junckollage at the Oval, The Studio Shop on Mucurapo Road.

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