Today’s Creative People interview is with Malaika of Place Value Pottery. She is a ceramic artist living, working, and raising a family in St. Louis. Her background is in anthropology and art history, and her passion for both is reflected in her creative work.
Her connection to place, which has been hugely influential in her pottery, was upended by the pandemic. When I reached out to her, she was adjusting to working in her apartment basement during a shelter in place. She speaks about how her creative world, family, and sense of community has shifted, and reminds us why friends are crucial – and pants are not.
Pre-Covid, my workdays were bookended by a whirlwind of family drop offs and pick ups. Once we managed to get everyone dressed and fed, we’d scramble into our little car and head out. We dropped off our preschooler first, then my husband, then our kindergartener, and then he would always say, “well then who drops *you* off, mom?”
I’d finally drop myself off and plunk myself at a table in the clay studio of the art organization where I work, teach, and enjoy the company of a tight-knit clay studio family. Sometimes I show up clean, dressed, fed, and caffeinated. Other days I’m still in somewhat acceptable “athleisure” (read: too busy getting everyone else dressed; still in pajamas). There are other studios – glass, metal, fiber, etc., and administrative offices, but the clay studio is my home, and no one seems to care if I’m wearing real pants or not.
I usually teach one or two mornings a week – I have a regular adult hand building class, occasionally surface design workshops, and groups of students through our community programs that come for an enriching craft experience they can’t get at their schools.
When I’m not teaching, I work my butt off on my production for Place Value Pottery. Then I go home for a quick lunch and “office time”, which is usually me sitting at the dining room table answering emails, writing copy, applying to things, packing orders, and scrolling mindlessly through Instagram. And then it’s suddenly time to start picking everyone up!
It’s hard to think back to those pre-Covid weeks! I find myself immediately cringing when I think about how busy everything felt at the time, but wow, I really miss the studio conversations.
The kids and my husband have been home for 60 days (but who’s counting?) and I’ve set up a very rudimentary studio in the basement of our apartment building. Just a borrowed wheel and some shelf space in a storage area. I work anywhere from zero to a couple of hours a day, surrounded by furniture abandoned by 100 years’ worth of tenants. I fire at a very generous friend’s home studio – Chelsea Wilkins. She also took these amazing photos! She’s also a mom, and her camaraderie and friendship has been essential to my survival during these crazy times.
My husband does tech support for our local university, so his days are spent supporting professors who are teaching from home. We’re trying to keep our kids occupied and learning, but it’s been a struggle finding a routine.
I’m really fortunate – St. Louis is filled with people who are supporting local makers, and sales have been better than expected. Shows are cancelled, but I’m enjoying the slowed pace. May is usually my craziest month – I was scheduled for three events, and my older kid’s birthday is smack dab in the middle of the chaos. This May I get to thoughtfully enjoy his special day without the stress.
Most of my inspiration used to come from other artists in the clay studio, especially my students. Beginning students are full of unbridled creativity, uninhibited by the “well, we don’t do it that way” mentality. I learn so much from them.
These days, most of my creativity is reserved for keeping the family organized and trying to think of ways for us all to stay sane. And, I do a lot of custom map work on my pottery, so I get to do some creative design work with that.
I’m also collaborating more with makers and local business owners. Everyone is pivoting their businesses and changing things up, and we’re growing our community of creative entrepreneurs. Everyone has dramatically different circumstances, and different needs, fears, and certainties, but we’re still in it together.”
Thanks for sharing both your beautiful work and a peek into your creative world, Malaika! You can find her at @PlaceValuePottery on Instagram – give her a follow and some love.