Showcased in galleries and private collections around the U.S., Patty Kochaver ’84 credits Graceland for her artistic beginnings. She has perfected her calling and has a studio at the Midwest Clay Guild, north of Chicago. Her unique ceramic work has evolved to an exquisite, recognizable style. Currently, she exhibits in an international juried show called Materials, Hard and Soft, in Denton, Texas. Represented by Blue Gallery in Kansas City, her website is pattykochaver.com.
Q: Ceramics is a broad medium. What is your specialty?
A: Wheel thrown saggar red vessels. (A saggar is a refractory container used in China hundreds of years ago to protect fine porcelain ware.) I use saggars as a container for combustibles, which create interesting marks on the pot’s surfaces. I was studio coordinator at the Evanston Art Center (EAC) for nearly 10 years (2001-10) and had a fully equipped studio at my disposal. This gave me the freedom to experiment and hone in on the body of work I do now. I work intuitively, but also document my firings to understand the science of it. The forms I fire have evolved over the years, and I can spend hours getting the curve, balance and lift just right. I’ve saggar fired floor vessels (three feet high), but prefer mid-sized round bottle forms and boxes. Another specialty of mine is teaching. I’ve been teaching adults since 1991 and now teach at Lill Street Art Center and the EAC. Creating my own work is a solitary experience, which I enjoy, but it’s nice to have teaching to bring balance. As with my artwork, my teaching has also evolved. I was lucky to learn so many facets of working in clay while at Graceland under the instruction of Mel Clark ‘68.
Q: Success as an artist is hard won. What has been the key for you?
A: Persistence. A common feeling among artists is “I sometimes feel like a fraud.” There isn’t a lot of societal support for the decision to do art for a living. I think we always have to bolster ourselves. I moved to a Chicago neighborhood where there were a lot of artists working to pay the bills and pursuing their work. I’ve sacrificed to afford studio space. I remember my mother telling me I had to start thinking of myself as a professional. That change in mindset was what I needed. I got a teaching studio in Chicago and later became a department coordinator at the EAC where I taught. My support system and exposure grew there, and I started entering juried exhibits with the new body of work I was producing. I made gallery contacts and started showing and selling. Landing the position at the EAC was pivotal for my career and direction, but I wouldn’t have gotten the position if I hadn’t already invested time, sweat and tears in my decision to be an artist for a living.
Q: What was most memorable about your time at Graceland?
A: My time in Kelly Hall. And the people. There were so many impactful instructors, and the feeling of freedom to create in the ceramics department was wonderful. I remember working in the studio for days without sleep, just being energized by creating. I’m thankful for being given such a large base of knowledge in ceramics. Painting, drawing, printmaking and design all feed into the same creative well and inform and enhance my main body of work. When I can, I continue with painting and drawing classes to provide a fresh perspective.
Q: Your thoughts on a liberal arts education?
A: The benefits of a liberal arts education are invaluable. Students experience things they might not otherwise. It allows expansion of ideas and experiences, broadens perspectives and viewpoints, and provides a solid base to face the world. I often draw on what I learned at Graceland and think my younger self would be surprised that I’m actually using this. The relationships that develop through a liberal arts education are also invaluable and long lasting.