Artist at Work: Noelle Horsfield


As soon as we got a glimpse of Noelle Horsfield's pottery, we couldn't wait to start setting our Easter table. Playful, remarkably detailed, and entirely hand-crafted, her bowls and platters feature pairings of woodland creatures and colorful blooms that put us in the spring garden spirit. We recently caught up with Noelle to see her Rabbit Platter in the making and learn more about what inspires her work.

terrain: Tell us a bit more about yourself and your work. How did you get started as a maker?

Noelle: I went to school for painting and worked in a variety of mediums including mosaics and jewelry making. When my husband and I moved to Maine, I had an opportunity to start working with clay and really felt like I hit my stride—it just felt like the right medium for me. 

terrain: What do you love about working with clay?

Noelle: The biggest thing is that you can never stop learning. There are so many ways of working with the material, and so many processes in ceramics that you can never explore them all. To bring in a bag of clay, really a rock, and to be able to turn it into anything you want—from a useful object to a sculpture—is what I love about working in this medium.

terrain: You’ve lived in quite a few places around the US. How have your travels shaped your work?

Noelle: I’ve lived in Indiana, Maine, Massachussetts, and finally here, in Kentucky. Where I am definitely influences my work, and I’ve had the chance to live in so many different places. My time in Maine has been a big influence on my work. I lived near the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, so I had an opportunity to connect with artists who come from around the world to do residencies at the Center.

In Kentucky, I’m fortunate to have a wonderful studio in my home-- a really accessible and inspiring space to spend my days. Plus, I get to have my pets with me while I work.

terrain: We’re amazed by the intricacy of your designs! Can you tell us about how each piece is made?

Noelle: All my work is hand-built without the use of a wheel. I roll out big slabs of clay, then cut and piece things together. All in all, it’s made quite differently than most other hand-crafted pottery. I work with porcelain because it’s a challenging material—it’s more difficult to work with than many other ceramics because there is no sand or additive to mitigate the shrinking and warping that can occur in the kiln. It’s worth the effort, however, because of the beautiful white color and the strength—porcelain is as strong as a ceramic piece can be. It’s also lovely and smooth to work with when carving.

terrain: Speaking of carving, can you tell us more about the techniques you use to create your etched designs?

Noelle: The technique I use is called sgraffito, an etching process in which a slip, or underlayer, is added to the base clay before glazing, then carved into to create an image. The etching is one of my favorite parts of my work, since I also worked in printmaking. Sgraffito feels like wood block carving, except more fun because I get to use the actual carving instead of making a print!

terrain: What inspired the designs you made for us?

Noelle: I really love old etching illustrations and have gotten into seeking out more and more examples of vintage etchings. Here in Kentucky, I’m also near my parents’ farm, so I’m inspired by the natural world. I combine those elements with my love of vintage or retro-inspired drawings, and the pieces you see are the result. I finished the pieces for terrain with collages of colorful decals from Spain, which gives the work a slightly more traditional feel. 

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