When Homer ceramicist Krista Etzwiler lost her husband Chris in April, she turned to her creativity as part of her grief process, creating hundreds of hand-formed organic pinch pots that she assembled onto pieces of reclaimed wood.
The body of work, titled “Arukah Project,” is on display at The Bagel Shop through the end of the month.
“I was looking up words for restoration and found ‘Arukah’, a Hebrew word which means healing or restoration of the complete self, physically, mentally and spiritually, and the word resonated with me and seemed fitting for this display,” she said.
Of all the forms she might create with clay, Etzwiler chose pinch pots because they are simple and easy to make.
“Pinch pots are one of the first forms ceramic students shape,” she said. “You take a ball of clay, insert your thumb into the middle, and press around and around until you open it up into a form that can then become a bowl or a plate or really anything.
“When Chris died, I needed an outlet to continue to be creative and a pinch pot is a very simple foundational skill you can do without really thinking about it. I can be distracted and productive at the same time. It’s a way to keep my hands busy, to produce something that doesn’t require a lot of intensity and that I can do at home without needing fancy tools or equipment.”
After creating the pots, Etzwiler glazes and fires each one and then assembles and glues them as interlocking pieces on weathered, reclaimed wood. In this way, each pot is similar in style, but unique in how they are formed, glazed and assembled.
“I don’t set out with a plan for what these pinch pots will look like, they just evolve as I’m forming them,” she said. “People tell me that they look like flowers or fungus or barnacles or something from a tide pool. Everyone looks at them with their own perspective and can interpret them as they want to. I’m not intending them to look like something in particular, just natural and organic forms.”
An artist who dabbles in a variety of mediums, including acrylics, watercolors, glass mosaics, driftwood and shell creations, clay relief and more, Etzwiler comes from a creative family. Her mother is a crafter and creates stained-glass work, quilting, cross-stitch, beadwork, mosaics and is musically talented, as is Etzwiler’s father. Her husband was an artist in his own right. Known locally as The Sticker Guy, he created stickers and T-shirt designs.
“Chris was so creative and always supported whatever direction I was heading in creatively,” she said.
Etzwiler’s passion for clay began in 2002 after taking a college class taught by local potter Paul Dungan. Through the years, she took other classes, learning the fundamentals of ceramics and was drawn to create functional items like mugs and dishes for her home and to gift to others.
Etzwiler, who was an elementary school teacher in rural Alaskan communities from 1996 until she moved to Homer in 2001, taught at Voznesenka School for seven years, at McNeil Canyon Elementary for eight years and at West Homer Elementary for seven years.
As she learned to work with clay, she incorporated art into her weekly lesson plans, introducing her students to a variety of visual art forms. Without a wheel or kiln at home, any clay work she did was in her classroom. For 20 years, until she retired in 2022, she shared her love for the medium with her students.
When Homer Council on the Arts opened their ceramics studio in 2022, Etzwiler was hired as the studio manager, coordinating classes and workshops, securing teachers and maintaining studio operations, which she continues to do today. Through the opportunity to work in the studio, she has been able to dive a little deeper into functional and decorative pieces, now working in both hand-building and wheel-throwing.
Although this is the first time she is publicly displaying her work, Etzwiler’s “Arukah Project” pieces are selling and she is delighted that her pinch pot assemblages resonate with others.
Etzwiler’s two sons, Koby, 23, and Ty, 20, both attend school out of state but are in Homer for the summer. She said she is grateful for the happiness her family, friends and creativity brings.
“Creating these little pots brings me joy,” she said. “Grief is a very complicated and nonlinear process to work through and so every opportunity I can have to feel some joy is therapeutic. It’s just me sitting there with pieces of clay in the comfort of my home.”
See Etzwiler’s body of work at The Bagel Shop, 3745 East End Road through the end of the month and watch for her booth at the Nutcracker Faire where she will share her pinch pot assemblages and other new designs.