Although Colorado ceramicist Alyssa Westenbroek-Koster hopes her handmade bowls and platters earn pride of place on a tabletop, her bigger goal is to create designs that become part of memories for the people gathered around the table. “When I make a piece, I think about the times I treasure most–the times shared with the people I love,” says Westenbroek-Koster, who is behind the Boulder-based AWK Clayworks. “In those intimate moments, there is almost always a vessel holding something. I love how my work can be extensions of that intimacy.”
Developing her own studio has also been a labor of love. After studying ceramics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Westenbroek-Koster joined the production team at Heather Lane Pottery, then served as a studio assistant for ceramicist Mary Doezema before moving to Colorado with her husband and striking out on her own in 2014. These experiences deeply informed her current practice, which includes a regular production line as well as unique individual pieces. Composed in serene shades of gray, white and pale green with rounded silhouettes that perfectly fit the hand, her work has a sense of lightness. “Pottery is heavy, dense and, frankly, akin to stone,” she notes. “I love the contrast of making something visually airy and soft that is also permanent and lasting.” She creates this effect by shaping mid-fire porcelain clay on the wheel, then further manipulating the form by hand.
Westenbroek-Koster emphasizes that softness with delicate decoration, from geometric lines to abstract outlines of wildflowers and mountain ranges. To create these distinctive patterns, the artist uses the classic mishima technique, hand-carving the design directly into the clay and coating the etching in a blue-black underglaze to stain the grooves. When she wipes away the excess stain, lines are left behind. The technique is based on a method used by 16th-century Japanese and Korean potters to produce complex motifs. “I like taking a contemporary approach to something very old and traditional,” she says. “We get to see these ancient crafts in a new light as they evolve with our modern aesthetics.”
The artist also sees her work as closely tied to Boulder’s dynamic ceramics tradition and rich community of creators. AWK Clayworks will participate in the citywide Open Studios Tour in October and the Boulder Potters’ Guild 2018 Fall Show in November. Westenbroek-Koster was also a member of the artist co-op Centercraft Studios, where she launched her practice before moving into her new North Boulder studio space. “They have so much experience and a wealth of knowledge within the world of clay,” she says of her fellow Boulder artists. “I gained so much from being around them.”
Although the decision to leave proved difficult, Westenbroek-Koster’s current studio provides ample room to experiment with forms, such as her handmade porcelain jewelry collection. Most of all, the new space marks another step and memory in her evolving relationship with her craft, a process still filled with wonder. “Every time I open the kiln, I get really excited about seeing the results,” she says. “I can make the same form over and over again, but there is always that one piece that comes out and surprises me.”