The Louisville area has a rich history of pottery and ceramic arts.
For Steven Cheek and several of his artistic peers, it was a head-scratcher that there wasn’t a big annual event in the region to acknowledge this local artistic legacy.
“We were looking at places like St. Croix [Valley Pottery Tour] in Minnesota, the Dallas Pottery Invitational… and we didn’t understand why we didn’t have an event like that,” said Cheek, who is a ceramicist working primarily in porcelain. “So then we just decided, well, if nobody else will make it, we’ll make it.”
Friday and Saturday, they host the fifth annual Southern Crossings Pottery Festival at Ten20 Craft Brewery’s Butchertown location.
It features a dozen ceramic artists and potters, including a mix of local, regional and national artists, such as Jonathan Pacheco out of Chicago, Amy Song based in Plainfield, Ill. and Amelia Stamps in Lexington. They also curated a combination of artists early in their careers alongside those who are already established in the field.
“And our focus for this show is functional work,” Cheek said. “So it’s not sculpture. This is all dealing with work that can be used for the table.”
Festival organizer Lindsay Oesterritter is a potter based in Manassas, Va., who grew up in Louisville. She said one of the things she loves about functional ceramics is that, “it’s elevating these things that we do daily.”
For example, drinking coffee from a handmade mug.
“And I’m making it maybe more of a meditative practice for them, or I’m making it something that is where they can have this level of enjoyment that is beyond the mug that I made, and beyond the coffee that they’re drinking,” she said. “And it’s a combination and that time spent that essentially starts someone’s day a little bit better than it would have been started.”
But just because it’s functional, that doesn’t make it any less artistic, she added. And Cheek agreed.
“There is sort of that long standing hierarchy of material, like painting, sculpture versus ceramic, [which] kind of gets lumped in this sort of craft tradition,” he said. “And I think that it’s often undervalued because of that sort of antiquated idea of what is high art versus low art.”
That’s one hope for the Southern Crossings Pottery Festival though.
“We’re trying to showcase that there are some really exciting and innovative things happening in the world of clay, that kind of breaches or expands that idea of what is high art,” Cheek said.
In 2021, they moved the festival online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in prior years, they saw several hundred attendees each day, according to organizer and co-founder Amy Chase.
Chase is a Louisville-based artist who has most often worked in porcelain, but recently began using brown clay.
All three organizers have their work featured in the weekend’s event. And the festival will be the first time Chase has shown her new body of work.
Chase said their goal is to keep growing each year.
“We just keep trying to add more features to the festival and more educational aspects,” she said.
They’re also thinking beyond a one-time-a-year event, and looking toward it’s SXPF Empty Bowls Benefit as inspiration for the future. The benefit runs concurrently with the festival. Proceeds go toward the Louisville nonprofit Change Today, Change Tomorrow and its efforts end hunger in the city.
“One of the big things that we’re thinking about is how do we make the idea of this organization more a year-round thing… that we would have maybe a little bit larger of a footprint in terms of our charitable contribution, giving back to the community,” Cheek said. “It’s always been part of our mission, and we just want to make that even a fuller part.”
Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.