Kasilof potter Libby Berezin plans on selling her works on the World Wide Web.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
As a potter, Libby Berezin has a broad skill set.
She’s an artist and a chemist. She’s in sales, and she could start a moving company with the amount of clay she lifts and carries.
Thirty years into her career, she continues to look for new outlets and inspirations in her life as an Alaska artist, wife and mother.
“I’ve found that over time, I modify my technique over and over and over and over. It’s like, ‘Well this finger doesn’t work anymore. OK, I’d better find a different one,’” she says of herself.
“I’m self-taught, so I learned some bad things originally, techniques where I was really putting a lot of strain on joints. Now, I do it a different way. It’s funny how a different tool or a different technique has such it really has an impact on how the finished product looks. It always kind of makes me laugh every time I stumble across a new tool or a pick up some object and I start using it as a tool, and then suddenly it has a whole new maybe fairly subtle the process is left on the pot. I love that about it.”
Libby was an English major in college, and her love of literature has continually renewed her work.
“I’m often inspired by ideas, words or phrases in books. Often I’ll come back to the studio with a thought in mind, and what I produce won’t look anything like ‘Ravens in Flight,’ or whatever, but that will be what’s behind it. And so, there’ll be the kind of movement, hopefully, in the piece that you might see in a bird arcing through the sky,” she said.
The phrase gave title to a piece that hangs on the wall in her home. It’s a round form, almost like a platter, with looping pieces that are like handles, but they carry the potential for movement she mentioned. The piece has varied shades of blue and cloudy whites, with figures that swoop across the surface.
Another piece folding in on itself, unglazed with raw edges carries organic emotion in the natural waves and curves of the stoneware.
“This is entitled, ‘Absence Itself is Felt as a Presence.’ It was a line in a novel, and it just struck me,” she said of the piece.
Libby distributes her pottery locally. She has devoted fans who continue to look for her work, not only for their homes, but as gifts. Winter and summer are her busiest times. Christmas, wedding and tourist seasons keep her throwing hundreds of pots on a monthly basis. Most of this is production work, which means there might be several pieces with the same forms and patterns.
As she looks ahead, she is hoping her next venture, as an online merchant, will give her outlets in new markets beyond the Kenai Peninsula particularly for her art pieces.
“One thing we’re going to do, when we get this online thing going, is I’m going to have part of the site I’m going to have one-of-a-kind pieces,” she said.
Her entire family supports the idea, including her son and daughter, Josh and Emily, who Libby admits are well beyond her in the technology age.
“Josh has been saying since he was about 10, ‘I have a mother in the stone age, and a father in the computer age.’ He’s been trying to talk me into getting online for 15 years. But I never wanted to take over the shipping, packing, customer end of it, and so now that Marc’s volunteered to do that, it’s like, all right.”
Marc is her husband, and a consultant who works from their home, where Libby also has her studio.
“He’s doing all the business end of it. He’s setting up the site, and he’s going to maintain it. Packing and shipping and customer complaints, returns, it’s all his,” she said.
Marc is putting together the site for Libby’s work as an eBay merchant.
“Even though they’re maintaining it and sponsoring it, it’s not eBay, it’s CottonwoodPottery.com, or whatever it will be. It’s pretty slick,” Marc said.
“This next firing that I’m doing is going to be mostly devoted to our online venture. As soon as he gets all these pots in his lap, then he’ll be taking photographs and writing up descriptions. That’s the plan,” Libby said.
Berezin works from a studio next to her home in Kasilof.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
What are Marc’s feelings about the impending deadline?
“I’ve waited all my life to say this: No comment,” he laughed.
The Berezins are confident they’ll do fine in business together.
“I have my own business, and she has her own business, so we’ve both been working out of the house for the last nine years in our own little elements,” Marc said.
This isn’t the first time in their 35 years of marriage they’ve had to work together. Libby said they recently painted their living room ceiling and not a harsh word was said. Of course, raising their two children was an exercise in collaboration, as well.
“That’s good practice,” Libby said.
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