You never know what will become of making mud pies. Mika Seeger constantly messed with mud as a child: ever setting, ever building. And then she twirled midair and took a break from art in her quest to become a dancer.
Her mother made things out of clay. It was her mother’s thing, so the recalcitrant in her rejected that path, at least temporarily. She went to UCLA to become a dancer, and then transferred her attentions from pas de deux to pottery. “I fell in love with clay at age 23,” Mika says. “I have made things out of clay ever since.” Now 63, she has burned to create – literally – for 40 years, fired from without and within from her kiln.
Less than a year ago, she and husband sold land to Church Community Housing and settled in the middle of an artistically agricultural community off Bulgarmarsh Road in Tiverton. They converted “an old chicken house in the middle of the woods” into a working enclave. A friend built a wood-burning kiln inside this 12-by- 15-cubic-foot space, modeled after an old wood-burning kiln that she operated on her farm for some 15 years. “Studio is too high-fallutin’ a word for it,” Mika says with a laugh. “I call it my ‘pot shop.’”
Surrounded by trees and fields and animals, with wide overhanging eaves on the outside of her shed, Mika creates pottery and sculptural tiles in the kiln she fires up once a month, on average.
“It is very, very labor intensive to fire it,” she says. The art requires some 24 hours of non-stop stoking to reach stoneware temperatures (2,300 degrees F. or higher).
The action of the flame and the wood ashes on clay and glazes leaves subtle and intriguing effects, making all the hard work worthwhile. Along the walls of her pot shop are stacks of fire wood to heat the space in winter (you would think the stoked kiln would do that, but you would be wrong) and her glazes and clays, surround the artist who awaits them.
Simplicity and attention to detail are important to Mika. Yet, there is historical depth in her work. Mika’s grandfather was Japanese, and she grew up heavily influenced by the Asian aesthetic. “My grandfather was an artist – untrained, but an artist,” says Mika. “When I walk through museums, I gravitate to the ancient Japanese (works).”
All of her pottery is utilitarian. “It has to be something worth seeing and it has to function,” says Mika. “It has to offer aesthetic pleasure and be useful.” The glaze is the difference maker, the frosting to her clay cake. “The wood-burning kiln does wonderful things to the color of the glaze,” adds Mika. “It is very intense, very generous, the effects from the sweat (can be) sweet.”
Also an accomplished muralist, she composed her first mural 22 years ago after living for a stint in Nicaragua. “There was quite a mural movement because of the Sandinista Revolution,” she says. “Murals filled the cities.” She returned to the U.S. in 1989 and began making all-ceramic murals from clay. Nearly all of her murals have been created in partnership, the four most recent with Peter Geisser. “In my collaborative group-made murals, I enjoy putting together a collage and thus teasing a cohesive and unified whole out of many creative but disparate parts,” she says.
Among her many New England and New York public commissions is an abstract mural filling a 80-foot hallway at the Rhode Island Training School based on one of Gauguin’s most famous painting which asks, “Where have we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”
She loves helping students ask these questions. As for her, she speaks with the strength that comes from knowing, in her kiln-fired, wooded, former chicken house pot shop. “I expect to continue to play with clay until my creaky fingers can no longer pinch a pot,” she adds. For more information, go to.