Methods of Embrace

by Rachel K. Garceau

Whether it begins with a curiosity about a single object or a location, it always grows from an obsession—an inexplicable urge to make. Sometimes, it means carrying an object in my pocket, studying it daily until, at last, I begin to sculpt, mold, and cast. Recreating its likeness in porcelain, a formerly mundane or everyday object becomes precious, tender, ghostly. Other times, I may visit a site, and the memory of what I saw there haunts me until I can return to it and discover more about it by interacting or collaborating with it, bringing the objects of my labors into a dance with what already existed. In either case, I never fully understand the layers of why I was drawn to that object or that place until I arrive at the end of making and/or installing. It is the journey and the new arrival which reveal the formerly mysterious draw. 

Over the past several years, I have developed an intimate relationship with porcelain. Day after day, I handle the material in its fragile, bone-dry state—carving it, sanding it, loading it into kilns. My mind must be focused and my touch must be sensitive. I have come to recognize how this impacts my behavior outside of the studio as well, perhaps even how I exist in the world and among other people. In his book, “The Courage to Create,” Rollo May describes the risks of intimacy. “Like a chemical mixture, if one of us is changed, both of us will be. The one thing we can be certain of is that if we let ourselves fully into the relationship…, we will not come out unaffected.” It is easy to discern that, as an artist, I influence my material—it is changed through my visions and manipulations of it. But it also goes the other way—I am simultaneously affected and transformed by my material. 

As I have built installations utilizing porcelain objects, I have observed a trend in the way people move through these spaces. There is a slowing down, a quieting, a new sensitivity in their motion. Knowing that one is surrounded by fragile objects tends to bring a different type of caution, care, and consideration. I have witnessed individuals enter these spaces in a hurried and tense way, and exit them transformed, calm, quiet, and just a little bit softer and more open. I cannot promise this will be the case for all who enter, but I do know that the possibility exists and the invitation will be open to all. 

Porcelain as a material appears to both absorb and reflect light. It is at once opaque and luminescent. As a chameleon adapts to its environment, transforming its skin to match its surroundings, perhaps we, too, can take on the qualities of the objects around us. Can we learn to reflect light, to be luminescent, to be aware of our own vulnerabilities? I believe the answer is yes. 


Rachel K. Garceau is a studio artist living and working in the Atlanta, GA area, and has been recognized as a 2015 Emerging Artist by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts and one of 2017’s Women to Watch by the Georgia Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She utilizes slip-cast porcelain forms to construct site-responsive installations. Her work is often born from a curiosity about an object or a place and a desire to come to a deeper understanding of it. Rachel received a BA in Fine Arts from Franklin Pierce College in 2003 and went on to pursue her education through studio assistantships, workshops, and residencies. In 2013, Rachel completed the two-year Core Fellowship at Penland School of Crafts (NC). She has received residencies at Vendsyssel Kuntsmuseum (DK), Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (TN), Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (ME), All Is Leaf (MA), and the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences (GA). Her work has been shown at GreenHill Center for NC Art (NC), Lillstreet Gallery (IL), and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (GA), and has been published in Studio Potter, Ceramics Monthly, and NCECA Journal, and also appears in CAST: Art and Objects Made Using Humanity’s Most Transformational Process.