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Making space for art in Big Sky

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Art and community with Katherine Berceau

Katherine Berceau smiles with one of her favorite pyrography pieces. PHOTO BY TUCKER HARRIS

By Tucker Harris EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – For Big Sky artist Katherine Berceau, creating is an outlet and a way to express her emotions. After a busy day serving up coffee and socializing with customers, art is her space for quiet self-reflection.

Through ceramics and pyrography, among other mediums, Berceau has quite literally carved out a space for herself as an artist in Big Sky and recently assumed a position working in the Arts Council of Big Sky’s new art studio in the BASE community center.

While her work now fosters other local artists’ creative space, she said it wasn’t always so easy to find an art community in Big Sky.

Berceau grew up in Wisconsin. There, she says she always had a large community that supported her artwork, which in addition to ceramics and pyrography, includes works of watercolor and acrylic paints, Indian ink, charcoal and graphite. When she moved to Big Sky in 2018 at 19 years old, she sought to find a similar community of emerging artists and mentors that she’d enjoyed in Wisconsin. This proved more difficult than expected, she said.

In addition to ceramics and pyrography, Berceau’s work includes watercolor and acrylic paints, Indian ink, charcoal and graphite. PHOTO BY TUCKER HARRIS

“The first year after the move, I didn’t do much artwork, nor did I consider myself an artist,” she said.

Finding space to do pottery was especially hard.

“It took me a while to find a community where I was able to do [pottery],” Berceau said. “…I was like, ‘I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do pottery in this area, because there’s not anything available.’”

The challenge Berceau faced in finding pottery space, however, turned into an opportunity to explore a new art medium: pyrography, an art form of wood burning. Pyrography was a way for Berceau to get back into art after moving to Big Sky. Without need for studio space, it was easier for her to do pyrography anywhere.

A pyrography piece depicting a delicately burnt morel captures Berceau’s love of foraging in the mountains. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHERINE BERCEAU.

A gift from her father when she moved to Big Sky, Berceau’s 28-year-old wood burner is very near and dear to her heart. The wood burning process starts with plugging the burner the into an outlet, choosing which kind of tip to use, and adjusting the temperature. Berceau starts all of her pieces on a low temperature, slowly turning up the heat to increase value or darkness into the wood. The long process of repeatedly adding layer after layer results in a texturized burn.

Berceau has focused on wood burning the past few years, creating beautiful hand-etched pieces, many inspired by the nature and wildlife she sees in Big Sky.

One piece depicting a delicately burnt morel captures Berceau’s love of foraging in the mountains surrounding her home in Big Sky.

Another is a portrait of Lone Mountain with the moon rising perfectly centered behind the peak. This piece sold in the arts council’s Auction for the Arts event at Montage this past February. The piece successfully sold in the first day of the auction for $500.

Berceau eventually met someone who offered her use of their private ceramics studio space in Bozeman, and this spring she found pottery space closer to home at the arts council’s studio in BASE, complete with four pottery wheels and a kiln.

Next to her work as a barista at Caliber Coffee Co, Berceau is currently the open pottery monitor in the arts council’s studio, which entails overseeing open studio time and being available for questions and tips. Right now, the open pottery time is only available for those who are signed up for one of the art council’s six-week classes.

“I want to be there, be present and see what goes on because I know that so many things can grow from that and also, so many other people can experience these art forms and get to try them for themselves.”

– KATHERINE BERCEAU, local artist
A portrait of Lone Mountain with the moon rising perfectly centered behind the peak. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHERINE BERCEAU

When Berceau learned about the arts council’s new space at BASE, she jumped at the chance to be a part of and help build the community she longed for when first moving to Big Sky. 

“I was like, ‘I want to be a part of this, that’s for sure,’” Berceau said. “I want to be there, be present and see what goes on because I know that so many things can grow from that and also, so many other people can experience these art forms and get to try them for themselves. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to work with ceramics and have [access to] a wheel and an instructor.”

Right now, her art is mainly sold off the walls in Caliber, by word of mouth or through private commissions. Berceau is continuing to establish herself in the arts community in Big Sky as that community grows and becomes more accessible. Currently in the process of starting her new business, Full Moon LLC, Berceau hopes to soon broaden her artistic reach and branch out to more customers.

Find Berceau’s artwork on display Caliber Coffee Co. or follow her on Instagram @katherine_berceau to stay up-to-date on her latest work.

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