By BECKY GILLETTE
SEMINARY — Claudia “Ka” Cartee, 69, has been “telling a story with clay” since she was a little girl and her father, a professional mold maker who had a regional ceramic slip business, gave her a potting wheel. A professional potter since 1973, Cartee has averaged making two tons of clay per year into art ranging from functional pottery such as cups, plates and bowls to sculptures and jewelry. In spite of brain surgery six years ago, Cartee has continued to produce work so exceptional that she was named the Mississippi Arts Commission Governor’s Awards, Excellence in Visual Arts winner for 2016.
Cartee and her husband, Troy Cartee, who is manager of the pottery business, have proven you don’t have to live in a big city to have success as artists. They operate a gallery and studio on 54 acres they own seven miles east of Seminary.
“Ms. Cartee’s exceptional success as a potter from rural Mississippi has cultivated arts tourism in Seminary, where her studio and sales gallery are located,” said the Mississippi Arts Commission award. “She has shared her love of creating pottery by teaching throughout her career, mentoring clay artists and conducting countless workshops to help the next generation of potters. Among her clay sculptures and wall pieces, Ms. Cartee’s usable pottery and functional works are very popular with collectors. She signs her work ‘Ka’, which means the part of the spirit that lives on after death.”
Cartee has received numerous awards from juried shows. She has a bachelor of science and arts with an emphasis in ceramics from California State Fullerton. While in school, she paid the rent by making pottery and working at a pottery shop.
“I loved the beach, but it was going to be too expensive as an artist to live there,” Cartee said. “I came home to Mississippi, bought a little trailer and started my life here in the woods. I went back to college at the University of Southern Mississippi working on a master’s program in art education.”
That was when she started making connections to help market her work. She sold work at student art shows and out of her Volkswagen car.
Her next big step was joining the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi.
“Once I did that and networked with people who were far better professionals, those connections helped me to do better and better,” Cartee said. “I learned how to apply to get into the big shows. Then my husband, Troy, helped build a better, more professional booth. We got a trailer and a little RV. We started doing much bigger shows regionally from Texas to Florida and north to the Carolinas. We did that together for 29 years.”
They were frugal staying in the RV instead of hotels and making their own meals. They improved their equipment and studio as they could afford it, never going into debt.
“We built the studio here paying as we could go, making it work with what we could do at the time,” Cartee said.
After 29 years, traveling to shows got to be too much to handle. But all the along the way they held an open house yearly at their studio. And she meticulously have kept the addresses of all her customers.
“We don’t advertise a lot, so that is another way we have saved on expenses,” she said. “But by saving and updating addresses, and sending invitations out, we have the most unbelievably successful show at our open house in the fall of each year. That is how we are making a comfortable living.”
Cartee had brain surgery at the age of 64.
“I came right to the door of death,” she said. “I got very sick. I wouldn’t have lived more than a couple of months without surgery for an AVM that caused excruciating pain. I lost some facial nerves and the hearing in my right ear. The Affordable Care Act had just passed, and we own a cabin in Colorado that we built as we could afford it over 16 summers. We go to Colorado every summer fly fishing. I was fortunate to be able to get insurance. Otherwise, we would have had to sell all of our assets to pay for the surgery.”
Despite the physical challenges, she has kept up her routine, which includes yoga and weight lifting that she has done since the age of 40. She has been a vegetarian since she was 24. Neither she nor her husband are on any kind of medication.
Cartee gives a lot of credit to her husband for the success with this pottery studio in the woods. He has built and designed the studio and gallery, and helps with firing the pottery—a delicate proposition.
“Troy plans the loads and we don’t waste any space,” Cartee said. “Because I’ve been making pottery for 46 years, the pottery is very, very impeccable. Our glazes signify Ka Pottery.
“It takes years to develop a new glaze. I’m getting better and better at glazes.”
She doesn’t favor artistic over functional work.
“I love making functional pottery,” Cartee said. “I love throwing on the wheel. The way I was trained was is to throw in a series. I might do 20-30 bowls all the same basic shape. The art work is the balance to art pieces where I am completely cut loose from the wheel defining the clay. I can use the wheel as an addition to my hand building to create one-of-a-kind art pieces. That relaxes my brain and my body and allows the intuition and creativity to flow. I couldn’t just do art work all the time.”
Cartee’s father operated the Mackie Newton Ceramics slip business near where Cartee lives.
“Daddy said the water here made best slip in the world,” Cartee said. “They made slip, molds, and green ware, which is unfired pottery made from molds. My mother, Dodie Dobson, decorated daddy’s finished work for him and is a very well-regarded watercolorist.”
It is Cartee’s hope that her daughter, Ananda, who is teacher of the deaf in South Carolina, will one day come home to carry on the family tradition.
“I have trained my daughter and grandchildren to use the wheel and to find a story in the clay,” Cartee said. “Ananda one day wants to come back someday and work in clay.”
For more information, call (601) 722-4948, see the website www.kapotterystudio.com/ or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.