Anna Metcalfe explores the intersection of craft and function, food and community, through ceramics

Anna Metcalfe‘s work in ceramics examines the intersections between public art and craft, specifically the intersections of her craft in people’s daily lives. She leads community-based projects that engage people in their daily routines – universal, everyday activities like eating and drinking – which are inspired by equally universal issues in water and agriculture.

One of her current projects is called “Pollinator Pop Up Picnics,” a picnic series that will pop up throughout this summer. For this series, a tricycle with a truck bed will travel around with crates full of honeycomb-shaped ceramic plates and stackable beehive bowls for up to 50 people to have a pollinator-themed outdoor picnic in public places like community gardens. The plates even have maps to community gardens and beehives throughout the Twin Cities.

Several of Metcalfe’s past projects have also gathered the community together through food and craft. Over the summer of 2009, “Thursday Nights Out” brought between 60 and 120 people in North Minneapolis together each week for a large picnic held behind the Redeemer Lutheran Church serving local, sustainably-grown food on porcelain picnic plates that were given to the community at the end of that summer.

For “Making Home,” Metcalfe interviewed first generation immigrant families about the foods from their home countries that brought them comfort and allowed them to maintain their connections to their ethnic cultural identities. Based on these interviews, Metcalfe created porcelain dishes with screen-printed decals derived from these stories transferred onto the pieces, and then held a celebratory meal with those she interviewed to honor both the differences and the commonalities in their cultural experiences.

“A meal is one of the first happenings, or performance events, that humans have done with an artistic function,” says Metcalfe. The performance of a meal and the vessels in which it is served is “an interesting junction between craft and functionality.”

As an extension of her work at this intersection of craft and function, Metcalfe co-founded Gather, an art registry website that combines wedding registry services, the convenience of online shopping, and support for local Minnesota artists in one place. Metcalfe makes and sells ceramic pieces through the website and is also the curator of Gather’s collection.

“As a ceramic artist I would get semi-frequent orders for dinnerware plates for weddings,” she says. “I did plate sets as a side gig for three couples who were getting married, but it was always a really cumbersome process. For couples who wanted to register for handmade plates instead of going though Target or Macy’s, I’d have to build a whole separate website for their friends and family to be able to purchase them.” Throughout this excessively involved process she found herself thinking, “People get artwork all the time for people’s weddings – why isn’t there an easier way for people to register for it?”

As a result, she and two of her art-loving friends gathered together to form Gather. After running a crowd-funding campaign in 2014, Gather launched as a curated online collection of work that allows people to create personal registries for local art as well as purchase from those registries.

“We are starting to really build out an art collection from artists here in the Twin Cities,” Metcalfe says. “We’re testing the local model with couples interested in collecting local art, with the intention of making it more of a national model, or having pods of locality with local couples supporting local art and local makers throughout the country.”

Artists come largely through referrals and often already have ties to the wedding industry – jewelers who create custom engagement and wedding rings, painters who create commissioned “commemorate the date” paintings, glass-blowers and potters who made vases or other items for the occasion itself that are customized and etched with the wedding date or the couple’s initials.

Metcalfe says they always keep their eyes out for artists who do the kind of work that has a personal connection to people, “especially work that is functional that serves a purpose inside someone’s life.” She explains, “Embedded into that are the connections in people’s daily lives – eating and drinking habits, how they appreciate their food and how they appreciate each other.”

Another key component, Metcalfe says, is that, for many couples, buying artwork is outside their normal financial capacity.

“They don’t call themselves ‘art collectors,'” she notes. “We’re looking at a sector of people who are interested in supporting the arts but don’t necessarily have the capacity to do that. But when they get married there is a whole new economy that happens. It’s this huge industry; why don’t artists have a piece of that pie?”

Metcalfe says Gather is also working to break down larger and more expensive pieces, like furniture, into “shares,” which she explains as being “like a crowd-funding campaign for this one particular item for this one particular couple that enables them to get a piece they would never be able to otherwise.”

She adds, “We have a dream of creating a whole new kind of collector.”

But this new kind of collector is dependent upon artists who are comfortable in making their art their business. As it so happens, Metcalfe can help with that too.

You may have also seen Metcalfe in our Work of Art toolkit videos; if you’re local to the Twin Cities, you may have even attended one of her Work of Art workshops. Metcalfe is an Artist Development Coordinator with Springboard for the Arts. She has been teaching the Work of Art program and offering artist career counseling through Springboard for the last three and a half years.

“Artists are really great at making things in their studios, but they’re not necessarily great at getting them out into the world,” she says. “That’s what I help with.”

The content offered through the Work of Art toolkit has previously been offered through these individual workshops, but now, as Metcalfe says, “If you liked the content you discovered in one of the workshops, you can see there is all this other content also available.”

She and Noah Keesecker, Program Director of Artistic Development for Springboard, are working on an addendum to the workbook that will include things like PowerPoint presentations to augment instruction – “teaching teachers how to teach the material,” as she explains. She’ll present this toolkit at the upcoming National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, the world’s largest event held in the field of ceramic arts.