Lara O’Keefe has a “clay personality” or so she was told early on in her career. To be more specific Lara is earthy, warm, and has a rich common sense about her. When speaking to what excites her, she says it is extremely satisfying to look up and see racks full of pots at the end of a day of throwing. “The first few – you never get it right. Like anything in life, you have to do it a thousand times, ten thousand times, to make something look effortless.”
O’Keefe Pottery came into it’s own in 2008 after Lara and her husband (with a little help from their friends) built her outdoor kiln. It took her a year. “We started just after my first daughter was born. I remember Fed Ex delivery guys wondering if I was building a boat.” The kiln looks just like an upended boat and is as tall as she is at its apex. An Anagama kiln, it employs massive amounts of wood to get it to temperature. It’s the old way of firing. “I like old things. I live in an old house, the structure of my kiln uses ancient technology, and I love traditional forms.” Perhaps Lara’s fortuitous apprenticeships with master North Carolina potters such as Rob and Beth Mangum, Pam and Vernon Owens, and Mark Hewitt planted the seeds for her traditional way of making things? Or perhaps it was magic and destiny that brought Lara back home to Chatham County to raise a family and make her very well crafted pots.
Whatever it is, Chatham County and Lara’s work is inexorably intertwined. In addition to crocks and jars with lids, Lara makes we proportioned cups, bowls, plates, and platters. She uses traditional salt glazes. And her ash glazes are made directly from Chatham County trees. Lara regularly walks into the woods behind her home to dig up Chatham County red clay. When mixed with water, this clay makes red slip used to layer textures and create sgraffito – a form of decoration made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer. For those who value art with an Essence of Place there is no better gift than some work purchased from O’Keefe Pottery. Prices range from $20 to $250.
In addition to raising a family and running a traditional wood fired pottery, which schedules at least one kiln opening a year, Lara periodically puts together clay workshops for small groups of children. Sign up on her website to receive notifications from Lara. She would love to keep in touch!
Lately O’Keefe Pottery has been teeming with collaborative energy. Lara was delighted to have a chance encounter with African artist Victor Ekpuk. He is a featured in NCMA updated African exhibit. Seems a friend brought Victor out to see her Pottery where he ended up engraving a large jar, made by Lara, with symbolic markings from his culture. His pictographic surface designs, or sgraffito, represent the ideas of coming together on one side and splitting apart on the other side of Lara’s jar. This joint art piece sits in Lara’s studio awaiting firing.
As a maker of functional art, her collaboration this summer with a local chef was a natural. “We hosted a pop up dinner with chef Kabui. It was great to be in some way contributing to the dinner – the dining experience. And for me, as someone who creates pots, which are meant to be used and enjoyed, it was an honor to see so many of them serving their purpose. And not showcasing just any food, but healthy local fusion cuisine made by a talented friend.” She had to scramble, borrowing several plates and bowls from her mom, to get enough pieces for the forty friends and neighbors who took part.
So make sure to travel down a country road and continue the collaborative energy by visiting O’Keefe Pottery during the Chatham Arts Studio Tour this December. Collaborate with the “Essence of Place” by collecting some O’Keeffe pottery for everyday use in your own home. You will be so glad you did!