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Marissa Childers: Making, Celebrating, Growing

An in-depth look into Marissa’s process, concept, and career 

Interviewed by Anissa White

Marissa Childers is an accomplished ceramic artist, making ornate vessels to brighten and embellish a home setting. She grew up in Alabama and attended the University of Northern Alabama for her undergraduate studies. She went to the University of Oklahoma for graduate school, where she received her master’s in ceramics. Marissa recently received recognition in Ceramics Monthly as their 2022 Emerging Artist, and in 2023 received the Emerging Artist Fellowship awarded by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). 

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Spill the Tea, white stoneware, decals, luster 22x20x20, 2022

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Marissa and her dad working in the woodshop

When Marissa was young, she would tag along with her dad to his various carpentry jobs. She loved going to work with him and helping out. She developed carpentry skills that she continues to use and bring into her ceramic work. Of this experience, Marissa said, “I started working in the woodshop with my dad at a very early age. I learned to build furniture, plane wood, and lay flooring. I have worked off and on with my dad for the last twenty years and have incorporated a lot of those building processes within the work that I do now. It was always my job to fix things in the woodshop. So, if a cabinet had a ding in it, it was my job to patch it and match the paint. Honestly, that’s probably why I obsess so much over the small details in my ceramic work.” Marissa also told me that her dad would sometimes be asked why he brought his daughter instead of one of his sons. This led Marissa to feel left out and unsettled, like she didn't fit in. She wished she could have been judged on her capabilities, not her gender.   

When Marissa began her higher education journey, she was on track to receive her bachelor’s in accounting. She felt this wasn’t the right fit and dropped out her junior year. She decided to return, knowing she wanted to major in art but not knowing exactly what field to go into. When signing up for classes, ceramics happened to be the only art class available, and so, Marissa touched clay for the first time as a returning junior. She immediately fell in love with the material, as so many of us do when we first encounter it! She knew instinctively this is what she was going to make her career. Marissa told me she remembered her professor assigning such projects as 20 tea pots in a week. He would walk around with a fettling knife, cutting open students’ vessels to check for any inconsistencies in wall thickness. Suffice to say, Marissa developed a deep understanding of technical skills in ceramics through her undergraduate education. This opened her up for conceptual exploration in graduate school, a whole new uphill battle to face. 

Marissa had to look deeper within herself and her work to push concepts and narrative in order to develop greater conceptual value in her work.  Through much soul searching and wondering about what she finds important and what she wanted to share with the world, Marissa thought back to her struggles with gender and community from her youth. However, Marissa didn’t want to approach this subject in a negative light. She began digging further into what being a woman meant to her and what about it she truly enjoys and embraces. She said “I grew up in the South where men worked, and women cooked and maintained the home. Due to that stereotype, society has made the idea of domestic space a negative one. For a long time, I felt I had to choose one or the other. I could go along with what society deemed appropriate and stay within the domestic space, or I could push outside those norms and take a non-traditional role outside the home. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized I didn’t have to choose. It was okay to enjoy building things with my hands, but I could also enjoy sewing and baking. It was at that moment when I felt it was necessary to explore femininity within my work, but I wanted to do that in a more positive manner. Think of it as a glorification of domestic spaces. I want the pieces I create to shine a light on the work of the homemaker that’s often unseen, in hopes of showing the space from a different perspective.” Some of the things Marissa found she enjoys in the “domestic space” are hosting parties and cooking food for people. So, her work began to evolve into tableware that, through careful craftsmanship and elegant embellishments, became celebratory of this identity she had grown to love.  

Marissa cooking with her mom

Break the Bread and Pass the Jam, white stoneware, decals, luster 4x26x6.5, 2021

When considering a new shape, or pot to add to her narrative, Marissa begins with a quick sketch scratched into her canvas covered worktable. From a sketch that will be wiped away with each day's cleaning, Marissa creates a paper template. The process of creating the initial paper template could take a couple of hours of meticulously cutting and refining the shape of the paper to bend and take the form of the pot she wants to make. When describing her process, Marissa said, “Each form is built with slabs. Because I am referencing fabric, I tend to center my process around fabric as well. I studied a lot of sewing patterns when I first started. I think about how each object would look if it was flattened into a two-dimensional form. I usually begin by sketching, cutting, and assembling these on paper. Once I have something pretty close, I’ll do a rough draft of the piece, [in clay] make alterations as needed, and then flatten it back out to make the final template. It can be a long, drawn-out process, but it’s nice to have that template so you’re not guessing on measurements when you want to remake a form.” 

Paper templates

Clay prototype

Textured plaster slabs

In order to get the texture she wants, Marissa creates plaster slabs that she casts over various types of fabric such as knitted sweaters and crocheted squares her mom makes. She then lays the slab on the plaster and presses it in to pick up the detail. Marissa then smooths away a portion of the clay slab that now has a knitted texture over the whole surface, to create a flat space for floral decals. Next comes bisquing then glaze firing the work. Marissa told me she hates the process of glazing, but to keep this to a minimum, she found a single glaze that can cover all her pots and achieve enough variation through soda firing, that each pot turns out unique. I asked Marissa if her choice to soda fire her work informs her concept or is more about aesthetics, and she replied, “It’s a little bit of both. I’ll admit that I am a control freak! And there is so much control over every little aspect of my work that it’s nice to have those little moments of the unknown present. I never know exactly what’s going to happen in the kiln. I get different variations with the glaze, small cracks become visible due to the extremities, drips fall from the arch and run down the side of a piece, etc. Those things most definitely play into the aesthetics of the piece, but it’s also a little reminder that life isn’t always perfect. We will always have those unforeseen things show up and we need to learn to see the beauty in the imperfections.”  

Marissa uses vintage decals that resemble old wall paper and decor.  When I asked her why she chooses these patterns, she told me, “This goes back to bringing aspects of the domestic space into the work.  The wallpaper in my home growing up was always different variations of floral print. I am particularly drawn to the vintage ones I find for the fact that there isn’t a never-ending supply of them. Once I use them, they are gone. That makes each piece a little more unique. The vintage ones are also worn. So, oftentimes, I will apply a decal, and some of the decal will be missing, or it will burn out in the kiln, leaving pieces of something that once was whole. If you translate that over to how our memories work, it’s something quite beautiful. We rarely ever completely remember something of our past; we are just left with these fragments to then stitch together to tell a story.”  

In regards to how she came up with forms or vessels to make, she told me that at first, she made what people had a need for. This included plates, mugs, and lots of cups. Marissa found repeating some of the same forms over and over less inspiring as time went on. She began looking more carefully at table settings during family gatherings and seeing what kind of dishes were used more or what function they served around the table. Being from Alabama, Marissa and her family always had a plethora of breads at these holiday meals. She said there would be up to 9 different types of bread on the table, all with their own basket or serving dish. This led her to begin making larger platters and big baskets to house the food she and her family loved so much.   

Marissa's great grandmother and mamaw

Basket of Wildflowers, white stoneware, decals, luster 13x17.5x11.5, 2023

For future work, Marissa plans to make more furniture out of clay, which would be an environment for her work to sit on. She told me, “The two furniture pieces I had at NCECA were my first attempts at furniture. I feel like there is a lot of room for improvement which means it could go in many different directions! I really want each furniture piece to be made to fit the functional objects sitting on top of it, whether that be an ottoman or a table.  So, the functional objects are going to dictate a lot of the furniture. I also want to try out other mediums. For example, I’m thinking about how a clay ottoman would look with a sewn cushion, or a table if it slowly transitions from wood to clay. I think it could be interesting to bring some of the materials I am influenced by into the finished pieces.”  

Tastefully Timeworn, white stoneware, decals, luster, flocking, acrylic paint, 30x25x17, 2023

I was able to see Marissa’s work at NCECA’s  Emerging Artist exhibition. One of the pieces was a tea set resting on top of a deep, purple ottoman, all made out of clay. The richness of the purple elevated the pale gray tea set, highlighting the ornate details of texture, decals, and luster on the pots. Tending to think her pots look boring on pedestals, Marissa considered where a tea set would be if she was at home having tea with a friend, and she figured she would set it on an ottoman between them. I asked Marissa if the furniture or environment she creates for her work will be as colorful as the ottoman at NCECA, and how she chooses those colors to fit her narrative. She replied, “Yes, I absolutely love color! There’s something really nice about having a more neutral glaze on the functional pieces and covering them with colorful patterns or sitting them on a boldly colored piece of furniture. My home growing up was covered in mismatched furniture and floral wallpaper. So, I am really pulling inspiration from those spaces. I often have one color in mind and then come home from the hardware store with 30+ color swatches. I typically always gravitate back to the original color I had in my head, but it’s a nice way to see how those colors are going to work together within the space I am creating it for.”   

Just before our interview, Marissa had been in another interview for teaching a ceramics workshop at a craft school. Opportunities like this have been, deservedly, flooding Marissa’s calendar as being awarded the prestigious title of one of NCECA’s Emerging Artists has opened many doors of opportunity. She said, “NCECA’s Emerging Artists were just announced at the end of February, but it has already been such an amazing experience. The conference in March brought so much visibility to each of the artists and the work that we are creating. I was able to make so many connections with other artists, as well as with art centers and galleries. It has already opened so many opportunities for me over the next year and a half. I truly cannot express how grateful I am for those connections, and I am so excited to see how this helps my career in the future.”  

Moving forward, she is also thinking about making work that revolves around more personal experiences. For example, she told me she drinks a lot of sweet tea, because it’s a southern staple. It is a must have in almost every home! So, instead of making a typical tea set with a tea pot, 2 cups, creamer, and a sugar bowl, she would remove the creamer, because no one puts cream in their tea down south. She would also like to make the sugar dish extra-large, larger than the tea pot even. This would be in celebration of the delicious sweetness she grew up drinking and loves to this day. I asked Marissa what she hopes the biggest take away viewers have when they see her work, and she said, “We live in a pretty crazy world right now and it can be really hard sometimes to look beyond all of the negativity around us. My biggest hope is that my work can provide a little more beauty in the world and bring a little more joy to someone’s day.”  

Vases, white stoneware, decals, luster15x14x9, 2022

To see more of Marissa’s work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram!


About the Author

Anissa White is pursuing a Master of Fine Art degree in ceramics with a minor in printmaking at Pennsylvania Western University in Edinboro, Pennsylvania where she was awarded their graduate assistantship. She received her Bachelor's of Fine Art in ceramics in 2017, summa cum laude, from the University of Hartford in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where she was awarded the University of Hartford University Grant and Artistic Talent Scholarship. Originally from Massachusetts, Anissa has moved around the country sharing her passion for 3D art as an instructor and technician in both private and collegiate art studios. She has taught many workshops in both glass blowing and ceramics, including introductory ceramic mold making, intermediate wheel throwing, and introduction to glassblowing. Her work has been exhibited nationally in galleries such as River Oaks Square Art Center in Alexandria, Louisiana and Charlie Cummings Gallery in Gainesville, Florida. 

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