Submitted by: Maia Stark, Gallery Assistant

Kate MacDowell did not initially plan her life around being a craftsperson and artist. MacDowell began a career teaching in urban high schools, then created websites in a high tech corporate environment, and then, somewhat contrarily, went to India and volunteered at a rural meditation retreat— it was only when she returned to the United States in 2004 that she began to study ceramics, and only then as something to occupy herself until her “next step.” However, MacDowell quickly became engaged with the medium of clay (Wolfe, Interview with Kate MacDowell) and is now a recognized and established ceramicist and artist.


Canary, hand built porcelain, compact fluorescent lights, wiring, 2008
MacDowell has always had a fascination with nature and the human relationship to the natural world. She often draws and sculpts from scientific illustrations and photographs, always hand-sculpting her porcelain sculptures and only recently using molds to make a collection of similar works meant to be shown together. Her process is labor intensive: she often strays from her original design, changing the sculpture half way through and pushing her technique further with more detail and increasingly delicate parts (Wolfe, Interview with Kate MacDowell). 

Uprooted, hand built porcelain, 2007

“In my work [the] romantic ideal of union with the natural world conflicts with our contemporary impact on the environment. These pieces are in part responses to environmental stressors including climate change, toxic pollution, and gm crops. They also borrow from myth, art history, figures of speech and other cultural touchstones … In each case the union between man and nature is shown to be one of friction and discomfort with the disturbing implication that we too are vulnerable to being victimized by our destructive practices.”

Badgered, hand built porcelain, 2010

Often MacDowell’s message is quite clear: be wary, we are connected to our natural world and what we do to it we also do to ourselves. 

MacDowell’s choice of using porcelain is not only for its aesthetic beauty: while it is luminous and strong, porcelain, for MacDowell, also highlights the impermanence and fragility of our dying ecosystems: paradoxically, porcelain is also a material that can last for thousands of years and is historically associated with status and value ( Porcelain’s history and fragility are important for MacDowell, who is consistently concerned with our own fragility and the legacy that humans are leaving behind.