Beauty in the Ordinary
Artist Profile — Nancy Monsebroten
Award-winning ceramicist Nancy Monsebroten examines things others walk right past. “As a child I was very lucky to grow up on an isolated farm in North Dakota,” said Nancy.
“I was outside all the time, walking through nature and looking at nature. I knew where every flower was and when it bloomed. We didn’t get a TV until I was ten.”
Nancy’s love of flora shows in the graceful porcelain pieces like her Thousand Petals Vase, that she creates in her Onalaska, Wisconsin studio.
“I am just so inspired by nature,” said Nancy. “I will never run out of inspiration. My work is contemporary but it’s very organic and botanical.”
I was attracted to the serenity in Nancy’s work.
“People tell me that my work makes them feel very peaceful,” said Nancy. “A woman told me she has a very hectic job and she can sit down in
her living room, look at my piece
Nancy’s been making things all her life and credits her grandmother with sparking her artistic interests. “She taught me to sew and knit, to bake and to raise flowers,” said Nancy. “I was really lucky to have a creative grandmother.”
Nancy’s memories of Grandma have even inspired ceramic designs. “I have a vase called Grandma’s Perm,” said Nancy. Grandma washed her hair in rainwater to keep it white without yellowing. She would wash my hair in rainwater. This vase is homage to her.”
Another woman was instrumental in growing Nancy’s ceramics technique.
After getting hooked on ceramics when she happened upon a class at the University of Hawaii, Nancy’s husband’s job moved them to the East Coast.
“I did an apprenticeship in a private studio that I found when I visited the Smithsonian in Washington, DC,” said Nancy. I met a woman—Eleni Demetriou—at outdoor art fair there. She had a ceramic studio in DC and was looking for a full-time apprentice. She really showed me that ceramics could be a full-time career. I learned an amazing amount.”
“She would come down and show the two of us how to throw a pot and would say ‘make 50 of these and I’ll be back at noon.’ It’s so different than being in a formal class — it’s
Nancy’s pieces are bathed in quiet, soft-colored glazes. “I mix my own glazes using recipes handed down to me during my apprenticeship…continuing the tradition of teacher passing knowledge to students.”
What Nancy does is not a quick process.
“A lot of my pieces are really time-consuming, like the Thousand Petal Vase,” said Nancy. “It really has 900 to 1,000 pieces. I get very relaxed sitting there repeating the process. It feels very meditative to me.”
Nancy works full time in her light-filled studio, right on the banks of the Mississippi river.
“We have a large, walkout basement. It has these giant windows and an oversized glass door overlooking the river. I can watch the sun move across the sky.”
Her ceramic students thrive in the setting. “They say it makes them feel calm,” said Nancy. “The view is so beautiful.”
This poem, “The Sensitive Plant” by Percy Bysshe Shelly, inspires Nancy in her work.
A sensitive plant in a garden grew
and the young winds fed it with silver dew
and it opened its fan-like leaves to the night
and closed them beneath the kisses of night.
Why do these words touch her?
“It is so simple yet so complex,” said Nancy. “It is something about finding the most amazing beauty in the most ordinary places.”
Nancy Monsebroten can be reached, and her porcelain ceramics can be purchased through:
Nancy found inspiration for her designs in plants, and in her grandmother’s curly, white hair. What simple things inspire you?