An Indianola farm girl finds her way with animal pottery

Art Fest Midwest

Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25, Iowa Events Center

Caroline Freese headshot. — courtesy of the artist

Folk ceramic creator Caroline Freese found her love for animals and art starting at a young age on a farm in Indianola, Iowa. Art has been a driving force for her since then, into college and now owning a studio with orders coming in quicker than she can create.

Freese is returning to Art Fest Midwest this weekend after being unable to share her art with the public since 2019, due to the pandemic.

“I’m excited to do it again this year and see how it’s changed and see what the turnout is like,” Freese says.

Growing up with sheep and goats, Freese found herself incorporating those very animals into her work, but adding a twist. Without knowing, she was creating folk ceramic art. She uses Iowa-native, exotic and endangered animals, as well as traditional animals, like pets.

During Freese’s college years at Iowa State University, where she got her BFA in integrated studio art, she was drawn to popular geographic patterns and shapes. Those triangles and lines are still popular if not more so because of modern house décor, she said Freese. Creating folk animals wasn’t exactly her plan.

“It kind of just happened,” she explained. “I was just drawn to [ceramics] as well as the animals … I wasn’t trying to make it look like anything, but a lot of people said, ‘this looks very folk style.’ So, I kind of realized that subconsciously, that’s what I did. Now it’s kind of just my style.”

Her program at ISU required her to choose three areas of focus out of eight choices. She chose acrylic painting, digital design (although she could never see herself spending much time on a computer) and ceramics. She chose acrylic painting because she has always painted and wanted to continue expanding her skills. Digital design lured her in as a necessity for production work. Ceramics was something entirely new for her.

For Freese, it just made sense to add animals onto her ceramic work.

“Since I like doing … paintings, and I just am drawn to art of them, I learned image application, ceramic, in college and it was like a light bulb went off and was like ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ I like making art that is all very functional in your home,” she said. “You can use it, you can eat out of it. But also, being able to apply my imagery to it. So, it’s kind of just the best of both worlds.”

Freese moved back to her home town of Indianola to open her own studio this year, Caroline Freese Designs, after previously working at a shared co-op clay area at Creative Artists’ Studios of Ames, since in 2018.

“I was just out growing the space that they could provide there,” Freese admits. “I just needed my own space”.

It made even more sense to get her own studio when her parents offered her a space at the shop they had built. “It just kind of all worked out really!” Freese said, laughing.

Despite the COVID-based delay issues with ordering vital equipment, like a kiln, Freese is now in full operation and says that business is so far so good. During the winter she couldn’t create, since she was not yet fully equipped, but she is steadily trying to increase her inventory.

Caroline Freese’s first day working in her own studio. — courtesy of the artist

“I do remember taking a photo of me sitting at the wheel the first day I threw in the studio, and it did feel kind of surreal. Pretty lucky,” Freese remembers.

Freese recognizes that she has been provided an opportunity that not many artists have.

“A lot of potters when they set up their own studios may be in their garage or in their basement and I have an actual separate studio and office that I can go to and have that separation from personal work. So, I felt really lucky and excited to see what was going to happen in the next year,” Freese said.

Now that she has her own studio, Freese is hoping to dedicate weekly times for open studio sessions. She wants to share her creative process, what she does as a whole and existing work-in-progress with the public.

Since opening, business for Freese has been going better than expected. She laughs and says,

“I’m selling more than I can make, so that’s better than the other way around,” she said with a laugh.

Her challenge is to constantly get faster, produce a higher quality of work and streamline her processes.

Freese is the only artist in her studio besides an Iowa State intern during the summer. Freese’s intern receives college credit and studio time, and in exchange they help with any ceramic or woodwork that Freese throws at them.

“One of the best feelings, as far as pottery goes, it’s getting to be able to throw larger, and forms being consistent is probably the most satisfying part,” she said, adding that she also gains satisfaction when showing her art and hearing feedback and seeing smiles from customers.

Walking goblet ceramic by Caroline Freese. — courtesy of the artist

So far, her favorite piece that she has created is a new form of walking goblets. “It’s still functional, but it’s just like that fun glass that you don’t necessarily need in your home but it just brings a smile to your face when you show someone what you drink your wine out of. I’m excited to make more of those here soon!”

Freese is now a full-time artist, versus starting out, when another job during the day often left her up late at night finishing projects. She now has the luxury of creating artwork as her primary way of survival.

“I think I chose this line of work because I like that everyday I’m doing something different or there’s a new problem to solve and I meet so many people going to shows,” Freese said. “So, it all comes together but there’s something very relaxing and calming about throwing and why a lot of people are drawn to it as hobbies.”

With her home being on the same property as her studio, she also has more time to create, rather than commuting to and from work.

“I wake up. I get to walk two minutes to work. I get to go home for lunch. After dinner, I can come back to the studio and work for another hour or two if I really need to. I feel very blessed that I’m so close to my studio and able to pop in and out as much as I want.”

Freese also makes animal boards, printable decals and collages. Check out her work this weekend at Art Fest Midwest.

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