DEMETRIA CHAPPO I CERAMICist
"Work fiercely and passionately and feed your hunger. Be determined and excited to take on anything and don’t stop. If it fulfills you and you invest yourself fully, then you're already doing it."
Where did you grow up?
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Describe that place and its people…
Lush and colorful. What always stands out are the plants, trees and flowers, the humidity and heat, the chartreuse light after a rainstorm, the sounds of a southern dialect, bugs in the summer and a thunderstorm. People are friendly and smile. Drivers wave as they pass you, and strangers chat with you in line.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress from a very young age, so I was always performing in community theatre and taking acting classes. I played in the yard all the time and rode my bike everywhere in the neighborhood. I was a Girl Scout, always active, swam on the swim team, and had good times playing (and fighting) with my younger siblings.
When did you first leave home and where did you go?
The summer after high school, I was 17 and moved to Salt Lake City—it was a big change from Louisiana—where I received my BFA from the University of Utah in their Actor Training Program.
When did you come to New York? Was there a particular reason you wanted to come here?
When I was five, my Godmother took me to New York City. We went to all the places: Times Square, The Statue of Liberty, the subway. We saw the Rockettes (and that very creepy Return to Oz) at Radio City Music Hall. I was in love. I knew from then on I wanted to live in this city. The energy of New York has a way of grounding me.
Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to pursue pottery?
I don’t think it was a specific moment, it was a feeling that built over time, and my excitement for the craft only grows.
Do you have any formal training?
I started taking ceramics classes in college and soon after moving to New York I found a pottery school in my neighborhood. After a while, I wanted an opportunity to explore my practice more and found a studio where I had that freedom. I love that there’s always more to learn and techniques to explore or refine...I take classes and workshops and love to read vintage ceramic books.
How long have you been selling your own work? What were you doing before?
I started doing a few craft fairs and markets maybe nine years ago. Ceramics was what I did on evenings and weekends, when I wasn’t running the marketing for beauty and fragrance brands. At some point they flip-flopped. My ceramics business officially turned two this summer—I forgot to celebrate, I should remember to pick up some sparkling rosé.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
Ceramics combines earth, water, air, fire…tactile…been around for centuries upon centuries…it’s very visceral. I work primarily in porcelain and stoneware. I’d love to experiment more with metal and textiles.
How would you describe your designs? What inspires them?
I love playing with form, texture, and graphic patterns. I’m very much inspired by my surroundings and where I grew up, so there are many organic and architectural elements in my work. I’m drawn to the tactile nature of clay, the sculpting process and surface design. Lines and astronomy, universal symbolism, ordinary objects, plants and nature tend to influence me.
Do you sketch out your designs before you begin, or do they come to you as you work?
I sketch out or create machetes of new ideas and shapes as well as sculpt and throw freeform. Some pieces come quickly and others take a long time to work through.
What does a typical day look like for you? Tell us about your work process...
I’ve learned I work best in the studio early in the morning and late at night, so I’m trying to keep a work schedule with this in mind, keeping afternoons to handle other sides of the business, check email, set up meetings, do yoga or a run. There so many facets to running your own business, and I appreciate the different roles I get to play.
What’s your favorite part about being an artist and working for yourself?
When I get completely lost in the process of making, and there’s a charge, exhilaration and energy, that’s what fulfills me. I know I work extremely hard and I appreciate that dedication - it’s different from the appreciation you feel from a boss.
What motivates to you to do what you do?
My parents and siblings are incredibly creative and they all work very hard at what they do. Growing up, seeing my parents run a business together—landscape design and horticulture—they give so much care and passion for their work and what they create. It has always inspired me, so working hard, being fully invested in whatever I am doing has always been ingrained in me, I don’t really think I could operate differently. They set a beautiful example.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I recently had an installation and several pieces in a gallery show. I’m really proud the curator invited me to show my work alongside two highly accomplished, talented artists.
What's the biggest risk you’ve taken that paid off?
Moving to New York in December of 2001. It was an emotional time, many friends were leaving the city, the job market was tough, and I was determined to be here. That initial leap lead me to a career in beauty and my ceramics business today. There are lots of daily risks, financial risks, artistic risks, but it’s hard to look at them individually—if I did I’d probably be totally freaked out—especially with a business that’s only two years old. Often you don’t even see how far something spreads or what it connects you with until much later.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned along the way?
I read this somewhere recently and it really hit home. I can do anything, but not everything.
The inertia of over-thinking.
Any badass women you love, dead or alive, that you'd like to have dinner with?
My mother and sister fit that description spot on, and I would love to see them more often. Both live too many thousands of miles from me. I feel pretty lucky to be surrounded by several badass moon sisters and they are always welcome for dinner. Perhaps we can have Beatrice Wood and Louise Bourgeois over too.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do what you do, or for anyone who wants to live a more creative life?
Work fiercely and passionately and feed your hunger. Be determined and excited to take on anything and don’t stop. If it fulfills you and you invest yourself fully, then you're already doing it. To live more creatively, take workshops and classes; step away from your media and make something with your hands; visit galleries, museums and artist studios and talk about what you see and how it affects you; spend time outdoors.
What does the word "authentic" mean to you? How does your work allow you to live authentically?
Honest, genuine, real. Working in clay, I feel very grounded and I think that has a lot to do with authenticity.