This Labor Day, as summer comes to an end and the school year begins, we are revisiting one of our most popular FACES of the past year: Katherine Tucker of Civil Stoneware!
Katherine Tucker is one of those people who can’t help but create. After studying fine art and design in college with a concentration in pottery, Katherine focused her talents on a freelance career styling, producing, set dressing and production designing for a wide range of clients, all the while using pottery as a means to decompress. Then, after wrapping a busy season of production design for a feature film, Katherine found herself in her pottery studio, creating pieces that caused her to pause. These pieces, she realized, could be the start of something. In March 2017 she founded Civil Stoneware in an effort to enhance tables and homes with timeless, thoughtful, handcrafted pieces of pottery. We are thrilled to introduce you to today’s FACE of Birmingham, Katherine Tucker!
Where did you grow up? What brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Birmingham after graduating from LaGrange College in Georgia in 2001. I moved downtown in 2007 and have really enjoyed watching the city come alive over the past five years.
Would you say that you’ve always been a creative person? In what ways did you or your family first see that creativity manifest?
My family was always so accommodating to my creative flairs! From painting and drawing on the walls of my room, to puffy-paint shirts and mismatched socks inspired by Punky Brewster — I always felt free to express myself at home.
My love of products showed up early too. I was about 11 years old and would purchase magazines — Martha Stewart Living was one of my favorites — and I would go to the resource page and call all the 1-800 numbers and request product catalogs. This was obviously the pre-internet days. What some would consider junk mail, I gathered, collected and cherished. I would then study the pages and file them away.
How did you discover your love for pottery?
I selected LaGrange College because of their newly renovated art facility. The potter’s wheel clicked for me, and I saw an opportunity to market the wares and produce an income. It was a really fun concentration as an art major; I’ve always loved building practical utilitarian-type things, and this was a natural fit.
What then led you to start Civil Stoneware?
I fell in love with the clay body. The matte black made every form look so fresh and beautiful. I had just wrapped production designing for a feature film and took some time off to decompress — long breaks are normal in the freelance lifestyle, but this time I got restless. It’s normal for me to make pottery during breaks for fun, as I’ve always had a small pottery studio in my home, but there was something different about the pieces I was making. They seemed like pieces that I could produce in quantity and sell, and everyone who saw them agreed. I loved the idea of starting something new, but something that could scale; an entity that could possibly maybe one day support multiple families and not just me.
Where does the name come from?
I wanted the name to reflect the nature of the product and where it is made, and while on the phone with one of my close friends, Seth, we landed on the name Civil Stoneware, because my studio is located in the Civil Rights District and it is stoneware clay.
How does your work as a prop stylist inform your pieces at Civil Stoneware?
They are tools for the trade. I’ve always been on the hunt for unique pieces to pop in photos or on movie sets. In fact, my prop room is loaded with inspiration. You can imagine it helps when you need that perfect something and you just make it. Necessity truly births invention in my life.
What do you love most about your work?
It’s always changing and, as a result, challenging me. Just when I seem to get in a groove, a new learning curve switches it up. Boredom is not a temptation when you are always learning, developing and growing. I also seem to love taking risks! Thankfully, most experiences have been rewarding, and I’ve discovered new abilities and depths within myself, all of which I would have never known if I played it “safe.”
What is your dream for Civil Stoneware?
I hope to open a larger studio sometime after our first birthday in March of this year. I’ve got some really great ideas for a space that I can’t mention too many details in advance, but I can promise you, if it works out, it will be great for all who love making pottery and those who don’t know they love it yet — and hopefully it will add to the list of cool things to do in our lovely city of Birmingham.
What is your favorite thing about living and working in Birmingham?
Since I’ve been here for 17 years now, it’s home. I love traveling, and in production, I’ve lived in other places for short periods of time, but it always reminds me of just how special Birmingham is. Most of my family is here, too, and that’s just the best.
What is one “hidden gem” in Birmingham that every resident should visit or explore?
I’d say grab a kayak and check out one of the many rivers in Alabama. The Mulberry just off I-65 is probably the most relaxing. You will feel like you are a million miles away from everything, when really you are only 30 minutes from Birmingham.
How do you like to spend your spare time, if you have any?
What spare time? Happy hour with friends during the week is pretty golden. As for the weekends, my family has a little lake house 30 minutes north of town, and it’s the perfect chill for me. We boat, fish and eat lots! We really love being together.
What is one of your guilty pleasures?
Probably dinner at Mexico Lindo with my sister. Those margaritas are so fun.
What is your best unique piece of advice for creatives?
Surround yourself with people who inspire you and encourage you to take risks. The creative process can be brutal, vulnerable, tricky and perplexing, but also quite rewarding. It helps me to remember that I’m always growing and improving, and it’s more about the journey than the end result. If you have one person in your life who can encourage you through the tough spots, you’ll do just fine.
Name three lighthearted or frivolous things that you absolutely can’t live without.
My dance classes; my power tools, especially my Mikita drill gun and my new battery-operated brad nailer; and my massage therapists
Thank you, Katherine! Learn more about Katherine’s work as a potter and check out the gorgeous Civil Stoneware products at civilstoneware.com. And learn about her work as a professional prop stylist, production designer and content creator at katherinetucker.com.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for today’s beautiful photography of Katherine in her studio in downtown Birmingham’s Civil Rights District.
Meet more amazing Birmingham women in our FACES archives. Prepare to be inspired!