As a child in Alaska, Karl Schwiesow would join his father on fishing trips that lasted from a week to three months at a time.
“Part of growing up in Alaska in general is to be resourceful and creative with what you have,” said Schwiesow. “That has informed my art.”
On July 29, Schwiesow arrived in Sonoma for a six-month stint as the Sonoma Community Center’s ceramics artist in residence. He will be living and breathing his art. His apartment at the Community Center shares a wall with the ceramics studio.
“That makes the experience super immersive,” said Schwiesow. “I get up and walk down the hall to my studio with my coffee.”
Schwiesow, 36, heard about the program through a faculty member at the University of Montana. He said that it appealed to him because of the studio space, length of time, and opportunities to work with the community.
Schwiesow attended Sierra Nevada College as an undergraduate, and received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Montana in 2017. His degree is in studio art, with a focus on ceramics and sculpture. Schwiesow cites his background as a builder and person who likes to work with his hands as a part of the draw.
“Working with my hands seems to come really naturally,” said Schwiesow. “Clay has become my media.”
His pieces range in style and size — with some weighing more than 200 pounds. Each time he arrives at a new studio, he measures the kiln to determine the largest piece that he might be able to fit in it.
Kala Stein, the ceramic program director at the Community Center, said, “We have a facility that is attractive to people around the country - kilns, glaze mixing laboratory, gallery space for solo exhibition.” Schwiesow’s show will open in December in Gallery 212.
Schwiesow’s sculpture tends to be abstract. On his website, he explains, “My artwork often uses opposing textures, colors, materials, even concepts. The sculptural pieces pull the viewer into a psychological space in which each element seems to conceptually contradict but at the same time could be thought of as necessary to the overall cohesion.”
While his focus is on ceramics, Schwiesow remains interested in other mediums, including photography. “At school you do it all, and see what you like the most,” said Schwiesow. “You paint, and you draw, and you practice a lot of things, and kind of fall into stuff.”
Schwiesow is looking forward to exploring Sonoma in the next few months and getting to know the community. A few days after arriving, he enjoyed joining a few of the Community Center staff for mountain biking in Jack London State Historic Park.
“The residents help to educate and inform the studio members in Sonoma and help to run the studio in exchange for the residency program,” said Stein. “Programs like this support young artists to pursue their career outside of an academic institution, to gain teaching experience, community outreach experience, and to build their portfolios.”
The Ceramics Artist in Residence Program at the Community Center has accepted a new artist every six months since it began in 2008. Artists are expected to work around 20 hours a week, teaching classes, maintaining the studio, and assisting at special events. In return, they receive a generous stipend, lodging, 24-hour studio access.