365 Days of Bowls Got Her Started! Meet Kate Menke: Art Educator and Artist

kate with bowls

Kate with her 365 Project

Kate Menke and I first met during a meeting for the Black and White Show at Vanderelli Room because her good friend, Mindy Staley, was my partner in crime for that show.  She introduced me to Kate and we had a delightful conversation.  As time went on, I saw her at meetings for CAW (Creative Arts of Women) and then at the Landmark show at Fort Hayes Shot Tower Gallery.  I’ve been following her ever since then and have been thrilled to see her receive all kinds of compliments and awards for her ceramic work.  I’m very pleased that she agreed to an interview and that I get to feature this talented lady as she establishes her own art business!

Kate has lived in Columbus since 1981 (around the same time I moved here!) and grew up in Westerville.  She has a B.S.I.D. in Visual Communication Design and a Master’s in Art Education from The Ohio State University.  She now lives in Dublin with her hubby, Jim, and her adorably awnry 6 1/2 year old twin boys (who BTW look just like her!!) She currently teaches Ceramics and International Baccalaureate Visual Art at Dublin Jerome High School  with her training in ceramics being  primarily workshops, reading ceramics publications and Otterbein’s Ceramic Institute for the past 6 summers, which was life changing for her.
I love what she had to say about the various hats she wears:
I am a teacher, mother, wife and artist. Depending on the day and the moment, the order changes. I did not think that I would be starting and artistic “career” in my 40’s…but throughout art history it seems like it’s the right time. I finally have something to say and am focused enough to want to say it.
I am in the process of establishing my own business. I think this is the hardest part of being an artist, deciding how you want to put yourself out there for people to find you and get a hold of your work.
Through the Aspens

Through the Aspens

When asked to categorize her art, she said that it is ‘process oriented narrative ceramics’.Her art is an attempt to hold on to life, to not let it slip through her fingers. She loves to make things, to make the same thing over and over because there is comfort in the repetition and habit. The ideas dealt with in her art include: time, motherhood, femininity, sacrifice and the roles women are expected to play. All of her work  relies heavily on process, repetition, texture and color.

A Hero's Journey

A Hero’s Journey

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources:
Christo and Jeanne Claude, Chuck Close, Lino Tagliapietra, Caravaggio, Duchamp, Banksey, Shepard Fairey and Marina Abramovic, just to name a few. Her inspiration comes from a  high level of craftsmanship and people who have a really unique perspective.
Most importantly,  I am inspired by my life and the people who inhabit it. I am endlessly fascinated and inspired by the people I come in contact with. The joy they bring me with their words and the experiences we share provides the seeds for my art.
 Kate was always told that she took after her aunt who was the artist in the family and her idol while growing up. She didn’t spend a lot of time drawing on her own and wasn’t exposed to art outside of school but she was always one of the best in her art classes when she was young. Even during high school, she only took one art class because she didn’t have room in her schedule. Coincidentally, she did sign up for an Interior Design class the second semester of her senior year and fell in love!  She declared her major shortly after!!


Head Doctor

However, Interior Design didn’t stick, so she transferred schools (ending up at OSU) and changed majors to Visual Communication Design. After graduation, she worked for about 6 months in a small company and that was a disaster!!  On the day she quit, her boss was going to fire her! That was the point where she realized that making art for a client or boss was NOT her thing!
At that time, she and her younger sister went on a two week vacation to Paris and London and her life was changed forever. She saw art work that she had studied and realized that the ‘American Dream’ was great but there were other ways to live life that were just as, if not more than, amazing. Mostly, I remember seeing Renoir’s marble sculptures for the first time and truly understanding what art making was about. Viewing Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa hanging next to the Mona Lisa just blew my mind.
That trip in combination with 1998 Retrospective of Chuck Close’s work in Chicago pushed
me in the direction of art education. I walked around his exhibition knowing that I needed to share this with the world. I decided art education was really my calling. However, I still wasn’t (and didn’t consider myself  to be) an artist, although other people did. Really, it has been since that time that I have been working to become an artist, although I didn’t realize it till 2014.


Kate had lots of twists and turns before eventually landing in Art Education, however.
She read the  book called “What Color is Your Parachute?” which recommended that she should be a tour guide or a teacher. Since our country was in a recession, she decided becoming a teacher was the better choice. I loved people, learning and art so it seemed a great fit, even before I entered a classroom.  So, she returned to  OSU as a Continuing Education student and was accepted into the Art Education program in the winter of 1996. After graduation, she taught a year at Northwest High School in Cincinnati and then came back home to Columbus where she taught four years at Dublin Scioto High school before transferring to Jerome High School when it opened in 2004.


Fast forward to 2014. Kate attended a week long training at CCAD for teachers. They were given an assignment to create a daily habit or practice for the week they were in class. The theory is that musicians and athletes practice continually (which she knew because she had been both!) so, why shouldn’t artists? ‘We were supposed to pick something we could start and finish in 30 minutes to 1 hour, it had to be portable, we had to post it on social media and we had to protect our time.’ She immediately committed to making art every day for the next year but also wanted to figure out how to make art in her own home. That led her to pick making pinch pots (they take up very little space and materials and need almost no tools). From there, she set up a work area in her formal living and dining room and got up between 4:45 and 5:30 a.m.every day to stick to her commitment. By the end of the first week,  she decided to add catch phrases and dates to all of the bowls to keep track of them and make them more interesting.
 In her opinion, daily practice can benefit artists that are just starting out, to give them something to work on when they have a creative block, or just don’t know what to make. It can also help established artists who are afraid to try a new technique or go in a new direction. It is such a small bit of time but can reap huge rewards. (Also, if anyone wants to learn how to make a really fast pinch pot, please contact her…LOL!!!)
Very quickly, the project took on a life of it’s own. I asked people to share quotes they loved. It was an awesome bonding experience with friends, family, students and even people I hardly knew that contributed. People followed my progress on Facebook and Instagram. When CAW put out a call for their Landmark Exhibition, I decided it was time to get the bowls out into the world for people to see. I hadn’t started glazing any of them and had to do it all and build shelves in about a month and a half. It was a crazy time. They were well received but many of my family and friends were not able to see them at the gallery. She called this project 365 Days.
And talk about taking on a life of it’s own, from there  the Ohio Art League put out a call for artists to contribute to their spring show. 365 Days was accepted and eventually won 3rd place in the Noves Histories Exhibition. The bowls are currently being organized and distributed to the people that committed to buy them before the shows. I have sold about 130 of them so far (you can read more about this on her blog: 365bowls.blogspot.com)
The CCAD class and the 365 Days project in combination led her to start her own business. It is still in it’s infancy and she’s not sure what it will be or what it will look like five years from now. It is only a ceramics business at this time because “that is what I am doing right now” .
This last year has been a whirlwind for Kate. During all of this busyness, The Franklin Park Conservatory put out a call for nature inspired works to be displayed with their orchid exhibit. She created a work for the show called “Who Wins in the End”. The work was accepted and became part of the De La Naturaleza Exhibition from January to March 2016. This is the first work of art I sold in a gallery. So you can see I am really new to this!!!
Then in June, she and her hubby traveled to Italy to see Jeanne Claude and Christo’s Floating Piers. They were there for the first three days of the project, managed to see the work three different times with about 50-60,000 people and even got to see Christo float by on his barge.  Another experience that was life changing.

at the Floating Piers

 I asked about her process and she states that she works very fast and make lots of mistakes. Since she doesn’t have have much time, she has to use it when she has it (sound familiar!!!???) . She has terrible a fear of glazing because it is so easy to destroy a work that she’s spent so much time on. So, she tends to construct quickly and sit on works to figure out the glazes in her mind before finally testing and glazing. That means I have a few pieces that are three and four years old that are waiting to be finished…Gotta love this and her honesty!!

Collaborative piece with Beryl Thompson for Black and White Show

Currently, she is not selling her work anywhere in particular as she has only been at this deliberately for about a year now. She is still working out what she wants her business to be. (I am learning that this part is my least favorite part of being and artist and the most difficult!)

One side of her Four Muses piece

She has a few things in the works for the rest of this year and the beginning of next…

She sums her life up at the present time as this… 
I think my story is that of a mother of small children who works full time and is searching to find her voice and perspective as an artist. I want to give other people out there courage and hope that they can do it too. Its about giving yourself permission, its about making something every day, even if its something small…You can’t be an artist if you aren’t creating.
I am also discovering that there are a lot of ways you can be an artist, and I never knew that. I didn’t know there was much between starving gallery artist and art teacher. 
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