Michelle D. Coakes - Artist, Potter
I am a potter.
I learned to make pots in high school, starting in 1974. I was lucky enough to attend a high school outside of Chicago, that had a strong art department. We were offered courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, jewelry and ceramics. I fell in love with clay. And that love has never faded. After graduating from high school, I continued studying ceramics, first at the local community college, and then at Northern Illinois University. Next, came a short apprenticeship at a small pottery in northern Wisconsin, where I honed my throwing skills. It was during this apprenticeship that I also learned the challenges of making a living by making pots. With that in mind, I returned to NIU and completed my Master of Fine Arts degree, with an eye towards college teaching.
I was a professor.
I moved around the country after earning my MFA, teaching at various colleges and universities. In 2001, I moved back to Illinois to take a position at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. I loved teaching, but I also loved making pots. I bought land in Christian County, near Taylorville, and built a house and pottery studio. The studio includes a gallery showroom and teaching classroom. In 2018, I retired from LLCC, and dedicated myself to running Bad Wolf Pottery full time.
I remain inspired.
I am happiest at my worktable, assembling thrown and hand-built parts into a variety of vessel forms. Some of the work I make is finished (glaze fired) in an electric kiln. Some of the work is finished in a wood-kiln that I built on my property in 2017. I fire the wood kiln twice a year with help from several other potters in the area. All of the work is intended to be used, so all glazes are food safe.
My inspirations are varied and numerous. Like most artists, they include my past experiences, my personality, and my environment.
I have lived in many places around the country, and visited many more around the world, but until I moved to Christian County, I have never lived in what could best be described as farmland. It is flat. You can see for miles in any direction. The wind is ever-present. The fields change color and texture year-round. There are coyotes and deer and foxes, owls, hawks and eagles. All of these things find their way into my work.
Artist Statement - Michelle Coakes
My work in clay is currently somewhat eclectic.
I create two distinct bodies of work.
One body of work is vessel-based, yet exaggerated in one or more ways. Sources of inspiration for these pieces include whisky flasks, railroad oil cans, and baskets. Various vessel forms (i.e. teapots, ewers, jars, etc.) are explored within the context of these objects to create this body of work.
Pieces from this body of work are the ones that are most often included in the national, regional, and local exhibits listed on my resume.
The other body of work is more directly functional in nature. I have recently moved to the country – a few miles north of Taylorville, Illinois. And I have a studio and showroom at my home, where area residents visit my shop and purchase work from me directly. They often admire the more sculptural work, but are much more likely to purchase the functional work.
The people in my community, for whom I intend the more functional work, are hard-working, sensible people. They want unique objects that are aesthetically pleasing. But, they also need those pieces to work for them. They consider the pieces thoughtfully. “Will the glaze in this bowl stand up to an electric beater?” “I like a BIG cup of coffee in the morning. Can you make me a BIG mug?” “I’d like a soap dish that won’t let the soap get gooey.” Almost every interaction I have with customers reaffirms my belief that everyone understands pottery – how it works, how it should feel, etc.