Fusing fine art and functionality
By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – It’s been a year and a half since ceramicist Jill Zeidler opened a retail and working studio space in the Big Horn Shopping Center, and the artist’s business is flourishing. The space, just down the hall from Bugaboo Café, is light, airy and clean, very much like the hand-formed functional and decorative stoneware thoughtfully displayed around the room.
On the working side of the studio, clay is in various stages of metamorphosis, from a heap of yam-shaped lumps to tall, smooth cylinders nearly ready for the kiln, a gleaming piece of equipment that will work its magic—or misery—on whatever she puts in it.
“There are a lot of ‘seconds’ [with ceramics],” Zeidler said. “You can work so hard on a piece, put it in the kiln and it could crack or a fleck from the atmosphere could land on the piece … it’s really unpredictable.”
But it’s the challenge of that unpredictability and having her hands constantly immersed in the making process that has kept Zeidler engaged with the medium since she discovered it prior to earning a degree in the art form.
When Zeidler, who has been making her art in Big Sky for 15 years, transitioned from her home-based studio into a storefront, her business model also shifted, from a largely web-based wholesale clientele, for which she was supplying more than 25 stores nationwide, to a greater concentration on Big Sky and the surrounding region.
She now has the added benefit of walk-in retail traffic, and sells primarily out her gallery-studio, in Big Sky at Gallatin River Gallery and Rhinestone Cowgirl, in Jackson, Wyoming at Workshop, and online through Etsy.
“I’m definitely a global artist,” she said. “But the Big Sky clientele has been amazing. The collectors are what drive my business, but with the growth of tourism my business has grown for sure. But it’s always a hustle—if you want to work as an artist, you’ve got to work hard to get the exposure.”While she says she’ll “always be making mugs for people,” Zeidler’s true passion is for large-scale sculptural pieces that serve as utilitarian fine art.
Her vases, platters and signature tall-lipped “gourd” bowls could just as easily sit on a coffee table as a decorative piece or hold a big salad on the dining room table. Often working in a contemporary neutral or pastel palette with occasional splashes of gold leaf or accents of grassy green are perfectly imperfect, just enough to retain an elegant handmade quality.
Another of Zeidler’s signatures is overlaying xeroxed images on her pieces. Stylized arrows, hearts, birds, flowers, trees, and horseshoes—nature being her greatest inspiration—are often incorporated like a faint, sweet stamp on her work. Currently, Zeidler is working on a line of new pattern-focused designs that will be released this spring.
This will be Zeidler’s fourth year participating in the Arts Council of Big Sky’s Auction for Arts at Moonlight Basin on March 22. This year, Zeidler has entered one of her large gourd bowls, an impressionistic take on the shape of a gourd, in the silent auction. She will also be featured in an exhibit in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center lobby gallery called “The Wild Unknown” that opens March 10.
In addition to mugs and her more sculptural decorative work, Zeidler also makes cheeseboards and small bud vases—all in her minimalistic, but by no means sterile, style. She also does a lot of custom work, especially creating dinnerware sets for weddings and custom printing projects for businesses.
Whether or not Zeidler will retain her retail space in perpetuity is uncertain, but even if Zeidler shifts her model again, she isn’t going anywhere.
“I’ll never stop making art,” she said. “Even without a retail space, I’ll never stop working. I’ll never disappear.”
Shop and watch Jill Zeidler create in her working studio and retail space located at the intersection of Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail in Big Sky. Visit jillzeidler.com for more information.