Deb Schwartzkopf- Owner/ Instructor/ Artist

Deb Schwartzkopf- Owner/ Instructor/ Artist

As a studio artist my aim is twofold. First, to make fabulous tableware that infuses life with purposeful beauty. My studio practice provides a vehicle for me to continually learn about material, connect with community, and create intersections between what I imagine and what I can make. Second, to use my unique skill set to engage my community and through educational offerings create a bridge to cross-pollinate communities both locally and nationally.

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Isaac Howard- Current Studio Member

Isaac Howard

Isaac first touched clay as a sophomore in high school in Chugiak, Alaska. He has been making pottery in Washington State for the last 15 years and recently finished a residency at Pottery Northwest. He primarily makes utilitarian ceramics from porcelain and stoneware, and fires atmospheric kilns to achieve his desired surfaces. He is currently working from Rat City Studios with Deborah Schwartzkopf.

Artist Statement
Making pots for me is a balancing act. I relish the challenge of making objects that successfully synthesize aesthetic idea, materials, firing process, and utility. Many of the forms, mark making, and textures I use in my work are derived from the extensive time I have spent enjoying nature. I am also continually fascinated by historical ceramics. There as a rich history in our field where adapting form, decoration, and utility are concerned. When looking at Chinese T’ang ware, English porcelain, Japanese wood-fired pottery, and the ornate construction of French Rococo slipware, representations of nature are ever present. I try to mine history for different perspectives, and pay homage where I can.

The shape of my pitchers can be read as bird-like. The marks made during the firing its plumage, and the handle a nod to the woven handles of Creamware.  A tray might have been inspired by a shard of rock. A theme commonly encountered in the rugged pots from Shigaraki. A plate might relate to the sunrise breaking through the dark northwest horizon. The dramatic flashing inspired in part by Bizen pottery. The idea that pots can relate body language is also very fascinating to me. I tend to think about this phenomena when considering assemblages of objects. Sets of pots that incorporate multiple pieces are an excellent opportunity to set up relationships between each of the components and ultimately, the user.

Loading a kiln and the choices made when considering materials is critical to how the pots interact with the atmosphere during a firing. I think of the pots that go into a wood or soda kiln a bit like building blocks. The ability to design the blocks increases the predictability of these unpredictable firing methods. The shape and structure of a pot literally dictates what sorts of mark making can be accomplished with the piece. When you build objects with multiple options for orientation you end up with more creative license when loading the kiln. Simple shapes like spheres, ovoid cylinders, cones, etc. are a great place to start thinking about form and physical structure.

Utility is a flexible point to me. Industrial ceramic companies maximize durability and efficiency of production at the cost of visual information. Since I am not an industrial producer of pots, I get to bend or break some rules to achieve other ends. How does it feel to use the object? Does it fit in the cupboard? Does it chip easily? Can I hang it on a wall?  Does it perform its intended use well? As a functional potter these criteria are of utmost importance and must be considered, but there are no hard and fast rules. It is less significant to me that the handle on a mug be the pinnacle of comfort. Rather the handle on that mug is a chance to make a mark on another object, change the composition of the space around it, make a historical reference, and be comfortable enough to continue to want to use it.

Deborah Schwartzkopf

Rat City Studios is the workspace of Deborah Schwartzkopf, Seattle based studio potter and instructor. Her mission is to engage and build community through clay – one person, one neighborhood, and one experience at a time. In service to this pursuit, she offers studio assistant positions for emerging artists, connects people through social events, instructs classes and workshops, and maintains a lively career in the ceramic arts!

Zak Helenske: Studio Member 2016

Zak Helenske

Zak Helenske was born and raised in Fargo, ND. There, he earned his BFA in Ceramics at North Dakota State University in 2009. Completing his MFA in Ceramics and Ceramic Sculpture at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in 2014 led him to an art practice that crossed disciplines. Zak has been a visiting artist nationally at University of South Carolina, McNeese State University, University of Washington, and internationally at Akademia Sztuk Peinknych in Gdansk, Poland. He has taught at University of Washington, 3D4M and Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Crafts. In 2015 Zak moved to Seattle with his partner, artist Mya Kerner, to be an Artist in Residence at Pottery Northwest. Since completing his residency in January he has set up a studio in Ballard where he maintains a full time studio practice. In May of 2017 he was named Emerging Artist by Ceramics Monthly.

Artist Statement
I am a potter who is interested in the development of form and the exploration of pattern. These two priorities drive one another, pattern responds to form, and, in turn, form hones to the strength of the pattern. When they fit, it is very clear, and the work progresses in this way. Balance, proportion, depth, and space decide the success of the object, and by highlighting the drawn pattern with porcelain brushwork, the dimensionality of the materials completes the link between form and pattern.

I look to industrial and architectural situations for formal references and social observations for conceptual connections. I use geometry as a language to communicate ideas of space, proximity, occupation, and structure. Proximity is the nearness of objects in time, space, and relationship. By layering patterns on top of each other, I draw maps that help define or bend an orientation. Rather than measuring the distance between, I am interested in the nearness of things; of people, of cultures, and of objects. Pots are some of the things that connect us across cultures and across time. This perspective drives my process.

Pots have a versatility depending on their placement in our homes, adorning our spaces and contributing to our stories. They are a part of our domestic infrastructure, facilitating rituals of beauty, nourishment, and gathering. I am interested in the history these objects carry and the sentiment gained from their usefulness. I am charmed by the anti-monumental, and challenged by the spatial balance between pottery, architecture, and community.


Deborah Schwartzkopf

Rat City Studios is the workspace of Deborah Schwartzkopf, Seattle based studio potter and instructor. Her mission is to engage and build community through clay – one person, one neighborhood, and one experience at a time. In service to this pursuit, she offers studio assistant positions for emerging artists, connects people through social events, instructs classes and workshops, and maintains a lively career in the ceramic arts!

Angela Cunningham: Visiting Artist 2017


Angela Cunningham first took a ceramics class at the suggestion of a high school teacher during Saturday detention. After receiving her BA in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary, she decided to put her degree on a shelf and pursue her love for art and ceramics.  She continued her art education in a post-baccalaureate  program at U-Mass Dartmouth, and soon after received an MFA from Penn State University in 2004. She is currently a full-time studio artist working at Mudflat Studio in the Boston area.


Artist Statement
I make objects that beg to be touched. Through exquisite detailing, seductive surfaces, and provocative imagery, my pieces draw viewers near, desiring to touch and explore. As much as I want to seduce, though, I equally want to push away. The beauty of the object is often tempered by bits of the grotesque.

The imagery in my pieces is drawn largely from forms in nature.  I am inspired by the seductive textures, elegant lines, and fertile energy of flowers.  Fruits and vegetables fascinate me with their tantalizing colors, dense seed structure, and grotesque beauty.   The human body enters here and there – the curve of a hip, the softness of belly.

More and more, my obsessive process feeds the content of my work.  I have given myself over to investment. Every part is sensitively considered, well-loved; details are rendered with an attentiveness that borders on obsession. I strive to capture a sense of exquisiteness in its richest definition

Writing by Canne Holladay about Angela's Visiting Artist Stay at RCS

Angela Cunningham was a visiting artist at Rat City Studios during February and March 2017. She currently resides in Somerville, MA where she maintains a studio practice at Mudflat Studios.  The tactile, sensual, delicate, and grotesque beauty in patterns and forms found in nature influence her ceramic sculptures. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of William and Mary in 1999 and a Masters of Fine Arts in Ceramics from Pennsylvania State University in 2004.

During her stay at Rat City Studios, Angela created a number of small scale sculptures. That scale allowed her to explore a number of ideas. She bisqued her sculptures here at the studio and we are looking forward to photos of them in their finished finery from Mudflat.

Angela is inspired by the seductive textures, elegant lines, and fertile energy of flowers. “Fruits and vegetables fascinate me with their tantalizing colors, dense seed structure, and grotesque beauty.  The human body enters here and there--the curve of a hip, the softness of belly.” While she does not aim to render specific natural objects, she does draw qualities from them, hoping to form a connection with the viewer.  

Angela’s work is intertwined with her personality. She is kind and caring; she treats her work the way she treats people--with patience, care, and thoughtfulness. Her attention to detail is ingrained in her mentality. She obsessively looks closer to uncover nuances and patterns.  “A white flower is never just a white flower. When you get closer it reveals more detail. And that exquisiteness is something that I aspire to in my work,” says Angela.  

Her process is intuitive in the way she toggles between building, texturing, and retouching her works in progress to create a seamless piece that appears to have naturally grown into its final form. Her building process underlines her ability to decide and respond to the outcome with openness and clarity.

Angela’s background in philosophy comes out in her ability to untangles difficult ideas or complex scenarios.  She often lends an objective ear to problems and seeks to provide advice or comfort. In the same way, she sees patterns in her environment and identifies qualities from them to draw into her work. The layers of information she  builds up communicate depth, clarity, and the utmost sensitivity. There is a tension in the push and pull of her work. The obsessive surfaces beckon and the scale or fragility may call for distance.  She hopes to bring reactions of seduction, repulsion, curiosity and wonder from her viewers.

Angela thinks of her work as compositions on theme and variation: theme as melody and variation as exploring ideas within certain parameters. Each piece develops as a unique object, but exists as part of one family. She is responsive to the work as it progresses and pays close attention to details, especially at the end of the project. “I think of the physicality of my pieces. If this were a real piece in the world what would it look like… that helps me relate the believability of something that it might be natural in the world or in the real world.” She is interested in the viewer’s reaction to the believability of her work, as some viewers are drawn in, while some recoil at the sight. She is excited that her details can lead viewers to different conclusions, as that is an element of her own inspiration.

It was a pleasure to have Angela in the studio. She brought amazing energy to the studio and we grew from having her presence here, watching her explore her ideas, and instigated thoughtful conversations!  We encourage you to further investigate her work and practice through @cunninghamceramics and

Questions from Canne Holladay to Angela Cunningham:

Q: Do you ever sculpt something you find, or more often synthesize the curves and textures with other ideas about form and display?
A: “Ever since I was little imagery from nature has filled my brain.” Angela finds patterns from nature a good source of inspiration but doesn’t take a peach pit, for example, and sculpt it. She is attracted to and inspired by natural textures, but led by intuition.

Q: Do you have any writings or comments about your process?
A: She uses the technique that suits the goal, and rather than working in multiples she thinks of her process as working in theme and variations. She views theme as melody, and variation as idea exploration within certain parameters. She works critically and intuitively at the same time, as she is responsive to the work as it progresses. She considers the importance of play in the studio, but is also obsessive over detail, especially at the end of the project. On the need for such obsessive detailing she says “I think of the physicality of my pieces. If this were a real piece in the world what would it look like? Considering that helps me relate the believability of something -  that it might be natural in the world or real in the world.”

Q: Do you encourage touch for your finished work or do you think of it more like forbidden fruit? Look but don’t touch?
A: “I welcome touch.” Angela creates a tension in the work that both calls for and rejects touch, and in some cases the viewer can imagine how the touch might feel. She is interested in different reactions from viewers – some recoil and some are drawn in by the natural patterns visible in the work. “But I lean more toward beauty than repulsion, though uncanny may be a better term than repulsion – like a curiosity or eroticism in the piece.” Details can serve to amplify the beauty of the pieces.

Q: Do you combine throwing and coiling in your process?
A: Yes. “I use throwing as a tool, but coiling allows me to make anything I imagine. I have been exploring  asymmetry a lot more lately.” In this exploration throwing parts and assembling them lends to freedom in idea development. Angela believes in risk taking, stating, “you have to be willing to not have something work and push it, and having lots of parts is a good way to not have such attachment to something.”

Q: Do you ever look at water for inspiration?
A: “I find patterns in a lot of things, but not water specifically.” She mentioned that viewers often suggest that elements of her work remind them of water or things in the water, but she might be more likely to think of the way water makes lines on sand.

Q: Do you create drawings of your ideas or of your finished pieces?
A: In the beginning she sketches freely and initial sketches allow exploration of proportions, but she doesn’t work out an idea through sketches. More often “I look at the work from different orientations or stacked together. So, work comes from the work. I draw quite a bit in the glazing phase. I may use crayons or colored pencils” to think about glazing.

Q: Do you think of each piece as a unique representation or do you often revisit certain trinkets?
A: Both – Angela considers each piece as a unique object, but often revisits ideas and explores them in different directions. “They’re like family members. They have the same genes but they’re a little different.” Work spurns work, and she finds that she has more ideas than she is able to follow through on.

Q: How does scale play into your work? Do you think of how scale will relate to photos?
A: “If I want a piece to confront someone’s body more it is bigger, smaller pieces invite greater inspection. Larger work tends to require standing back at first.” Angela thinks about how the scale will affect the viewing process and reflects on choices made when scaling up. “Inevitably, some work does not photograph well. I do try to take great photographs, though it doesn’t enter into the making process.”

Q: How do titles reflect your thoughts? Do you use them to inform?
A: “I use titles that are evocative and not specific. I like them to speak to certain emotion or make a suggestion about the piece.” She mentioned that she often keeps a list of words and then assigns them to work as the two are associated. “I like the titles to be abstracted enough that people can see different imagery. And I tend not to be drawn to science terminology, rather I want to leave room for emotion. I hope for viewers to draw their own conclusions and see fluctuating imagery in the pieces.”

Q: How has your perspective on this idea evolved since you started working with it?
A: “When it comes to growth and expansion nature doesn’t come to mind as often as ideas about asymmetry, form, and building around a center or core. My work used to be more precious and my texture more stylized. I’m now working more vigorously… instead of carving a line I might smack something. It’s very easy to be controlled, so I intentionally work in a way that prevents that control to keep myself going in new directions.”

Vanessa Norris: Studio Assistant 2016-17

Vanessa Norris

Vanessa Norris is a ceramic artist best known for her functional tableware. Central to her work is her interest in what captures the attention of the viewer, purposely incorporating designs and/or textures only visible from closeup. Parallel to her ceramic practice, she writes poetry that often pairs with a body of work or specific piece, allowing the viewer/user to approach her work with a different level of understanding.

Vanessa graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design with a BFA in Ceramics in 2016. Since then, she moved to Washington state and took on a year long assistantship for Deb Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios. She is an Artaxis member, has exhibited in many states across the US, and has been featured twice in the Exposure section of Ceramics Monthly. Vanessa currently lives and works in Boston.

Vanessa Norris

Artist Statement
At the core of Cloud 9 is perception, and that starts with how the work is viewed from far away versus up close. I make voluminous, buoyant--almost “Seussical”--forms and incorporate white designs on a white clay body. Visually, white does not stand out against gallery walls or amidst colorful pots in the kitchen cupboard; it is a common color for cheap, manufactured ceramic tableware. This perception lends itself nicely to adding unexpected, tactile elements to my pieces--present only for those who choose to stop, to touch, to probe deeper. I am interested in the difference between looking and seeing; the interaction (or lack of interaction) is as much a part of my work as the work itself. Placing meaning within the structure of an object commonly thought of as “purely functional” is my way of elevating the status of pottery to that of an art form and separating the curious from the satisfaction seekers.

Vanessa Norris

Poetry is another important part of how I process. It is a conversation I have with myself--another way of cementing what I cannot yet vocalize, and it acts as the grout that holds the shards of my practice together. Though I do not always show my pots and poetry together, this particular body of work felt incomplete without its poetic counterpart. Paired with the recognizable iconography of the cloud, the verses provide the blueprints to enter the language of my work, allowing space for reflection on the role cloud idioms play in our understanding of the world and our relationships. There is no fast track to understanding the small nuances of the everyday. They are what make a life, after all. For those who take the time, tableware provides an intimate way to experience art.

Experience at Rat City Studios
Freshly graduated from college, I picked up my life and moved to the opposite side of the country to assist Deb at Rat City Studios. It was quite the move, and though I had never been to Seattle, I had my sights set on working for Deb since I heard about her program a year or so prior.

The year put forth many opportunities to grow. I rekindled my love for writing and photography to complement my practice. Though I am neither athletic nor an early riser, I woke up at three in the morning and biked six miles to my part-time job nearly five days of the week. I watched and learned from Deb, soaking up the triumphs and pitfalls that come with being an artist. And I made a home there--in the pages of my sketchbook and in between each line of poetry. My time at Rat City Studios came and went, but the year will echo and reverberate in my brain, pushing forth new ideas long after I’m gone.

I have returned to Boston for the foreseeable future to pursue opportunities here. This summer, I divided my time between teaching at Indigo Fire, instructing a high school summer intensive course at MassArt, and being a teaching assistant for Kyla Toomey at Harvard Ceramics. I had access to those facilities to continue making my work, so I was able to create new pieces for my portfolio and sell through various venues. This fall, I plan to continue making/teaching at local ceramics studios. I am also embarking on a new path with my partner, Gustavo Barceloni. We are in the process of setting up our own ceramics space called Dirty E Studios in Everett, MA. The first step in the process is to raise the funds necessary to hire an electrician and insulate the space, among other things. To accomplish our goal, we will be launching an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign on September 8th (the link will be posted on my website and Instagram on that day).

If you need me, you can find me working on the new studio, at an open mic poetry night, or sitting by the Charles River esplanade--still with clay covered jeans and my head in the clouds.

Deborah Schwartzkopf

Rat City Studios is the workspace of Deborah Schwartzkopf, Seattle based studio potter and instructor. Her mission is to engage and build community through clay – one person, one neighborhood, and one experience at a time. In service to this pursuit, she offers studio assistant positions for emerging artists, connects people through social events, instructs classes and workshops, and maintains a lively career in the ceramic arts!

Canne Holladay: Studio Assistant 2016-17

Canne Holladay

Canne Holladay was born and raised in Birmingham, AL. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Auburn University, with a Bachelors of Fine Art degree concentrating in Ceramics. She recently transplanted to Seattle, Washington to be a 2016-2017 studio assistant for Deborah Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios. Her artwork has been featured in many exhibitions in her home state of Alabama and across the country.

Holladay is reflected in her work through her fascination with small aspects of life: from discoveries made in the dirt as a child, to the observation of how a person is the sum of the many individuals with whom they surround themselves. In addition to working with clay she enjoys spending time with loved ones, knitting, sewing, and baking.

Canne Holladay

Artist Statement
Through my process I create intrinsic aspects of life that are frequently unseen. In life, I’m constantly connecting the dots, to find my place as both an individual and a maker. As a potter, I examine the big ideas of interconnectivity and tactility. My work is informed by humans, both how they interact with and depend on one another. I find human elements in the malleability of clay; it is impressionable, temperamental, forgiving, and requires great time and patience. The form of my work takes shape as a vessel representing the body and it is adorned with decorations inspired by the tissues that give the body life.

Microscopic images are used as metaphor in my work to draw a parallel between the details and patterns in life and the mundane act of living. I frequently utilize dots as cells, and curving lines as a study of the curves of the body. A cell can be defined as “any one of the very small parts that together form all living things.” This microscopic foundation of the body inspires a dialogue about the macroscopic function of life.

I am facilitating the consideration of how my functional objects uniquely relate to individuals. Each piece is created as an individual object. I consider how its form and adornment relates to its function, and how the external action of using the object relates to the body’s internal reaction. For example, a cup, as an intimate object should fit the curve of the hand as it transports liquids to the mouth, exciting senses of touch, smell, and taste. Upon entering the body there is an internal reaction as digestion begins and the fluid is filtered throughout the body. These layers are meant to be uncovered through use, as one might uncover more about a friend over time.

My work is intricate and dynamic, much like life, and I create to foster relationships.

Her Experience
Studio Connection/experience: Canne Holladay worked at Rat City Studios as a 2016-2017 Studio Assistant to Deborah Schwartzkopf. During her time at Rat City Studios she worked on a number of projects such as shelf construction, casting and pressing bricks, changing kiln elements, and printing t-shirts. In her own practice, Canne took the year to develop intimate sized functional work fired to Cone 6. Throughout the year the studio often had a form of the month, which encouraged everyone to explore forms like butter boxes, jugs, pitchers, teapots, and shakers. Canne used these challenges to expand her repertoire of form, think about how many pots work in a group, contemplate how curves and symmetry are important in her work, and to consider her patterns on different types of forms. Her year in Seattle at Rat City Studios was eye opening about what can be done and what must be done to work in and contribute to the field of ceramics.

Deborah Schwartzkopf

Rat City Studios is the workspace of Deborah Schwartzkopf, Seattle based studio potter and instructor. Her mission is to engage and build community through clay – one person, one neighborhood, and one experience at a time. In service to this pursuit, she offers studio assistant positions for emerging artists, connects people through social events, instructs classes and workshops, and maintains a lively career in the ceramic arts!