Where most people might see a simple mound of clay, Marika Austad sees a soon-to-be work of art. While studying at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Marika discovered her love (and talent) for ceramics. Eight years later, she’s become a revered local small-batch ceramic artist who loves teaching the medium to others. Currently, she’s steeped herself in the art of hand-thrown pottery. Focusing on functional, contemporary pottery that often combines contrasting organic and geometric shapes, Marika’s work is something to behold. When she’s not spinning new ideas and creating wonderful work, you can find her at the wheel teaching classes at MAKEbhm.
We had a great time learning about Marika’s unique talents, and we are pleased to introduce her as today’s FACE of Birmingham!
Describe your background. How did you become interested in small batch ceramic art/hand-thrown pottery?
I became interested in clay in San Antonio, Texas, when I was attending the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was a biology major and needed to fulfill a basic art credit, so I signed up for a ceramics class, thinking it would be easy. It was certainly not easy, but I fell in love with it. I credit my amazing teacher there (Jessica Sailors) for sparking my passion for clay. She taught me so much and made it possible for me to take high-level ceramic classes even though I didn’t have the proper prerequisites. I then transferred to UAB, where I was able to continue taking classes until I graduated.
Describe your work. What influences you?
I would describe my work as functional, contemporary pottery. It’s important to me that the functional work I’m currently making feels good when being held and is versatile to go into any home. My influences are always changing. The seasons typically dictate what I’m making.
You also teach pottery — how did you become involved with that?
A friend of mine from UAB works for Susan Gordon (who until recently was based out of MAKEbhm) and let me know of an opening for a teaching position just as I was graduating from UAB. I applied for the job immediately and am so glad I did!
What’s your favorite part about working with pottery?
I love teaching as much as I love making. Seeing my students continue on after taking a class and improving is such a joy. I also love the studio environment that I’ve always been lucky enough to partake in. When I was in school, one of my favorite things about going to the studio was knowing when I got to the studio, I would see people I like and know. Some of my best friends have been made while I was making art. Being at MAKEbhm is very similar in that great bonds and friendships are made while working on pottery. Some of the best ideas and inspirations come from having those connections and conversations in the studio.
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What is it like being in Birmingham’s creative scene right now?
I have to say I’m lucky enough to be venturing out in the small business artisan scene at just the right time. The art scene in Birmingham is booming right now, and many opportunities are available. Markets are frequently available, and everyone within the artist community is so supportive of each other. MAKEbhm is an incredible space for artists venturing out and needing affordable studio space, community and support. Opportunities — like Build a Nest — were recently in Birmingham, so it always seems as though Birmingham is trying to learn how to support the local artist community better, and we’re very lucky for that.
Speaking of Birmingham, what’s your favorite place to grab a bite to eat?
My favorite burger place is, by far, Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint. I can’t resist the cream cheese and pepper jelly burger. I also love SAW’s BBQ (Avondale location) and frequently take out-of-town guests there to eat. The Essential is also a favorite for me when I want a date night or I’m going out with my girlfriends.
What are your top places to take out-of-town guests?
I always take out-of-town guests to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It’s such an amazing display of our history here in Birmingham. I also love taking out-of-town guests hiking at Oak Mountain State Park, Red Mountain Park or Ruffner Mountain. Birmingham is so unique in that it offers so many lovely state parks and hiking opportunities within the city or just a short drive away.
Describe your perfect Birmingham night — where you would go, what would you do?
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I have misophonia.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Something that comes to mind is a famous physicist my dad quoted to me once. The physicist is Richard Feynman, and he said, “Fall in love with some activity — and do it.”
What are three things you can’t live without (with the exception of family, faith and friends)?
My animals, my noise-canceling headphones and caffeine
Thank you, Marika, and thank you to Eric & Jamie Photography for the great photos!
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