When she sits at her potter's wheel, ceramic artist Cathryn Schroeder Hammond looks out the only window in her studio across the rear deck of her large gray ranch to the pastures of her in-law's Lyman farm. Where a herd of dairy cows once grazed, there are now Angus beef cattle. The studio itself is a big attached garage, the soaring height of the ceiling suggesting that it was originally designed to house equipment for husband Tom Hammond's contracting business. The ceiling is so high, in fact, that the garage also served as an indoor basketball court before Cathy and Tom married three years ago.Now any ball rebounding off the unused backboard would likely destroy some of the most beautiful pottery in Maine.
In a state rich in ceramic artists, Cathy Hammond has managed to distinguish her work largely by virtue of the distinctive, high-key palette she uses on her functional stoneware. Big tureens with ribbony, vine-like handles blush pink and purple. Large green platters glow with golden yellow centers. A proper set of nested bowls flash little chromatic surprises, like a naughty child showing her petticoat.
The colors, Hammond says, are often inspired by her immediate environment - flowers and vegetables in her garden, the greens and yellows of the pastures, the marine blues and greens of shells and starfish discovered during frequent walks on Parsons Beach in nearby Kennebunkport. The greatest influence Maine has had on Cathy Hammond's art, however, has been the liberating sense of happiness that has come in the past three years with marriage, motherhood, and membership in a large family with deep Lyman roots.
"The Hammond family is something I never knew existed," says Cathy. "I come from a nice family myself, but the Hammonds have such giving natures, openness, warmth, and lovingness. That's really nurturing for me. I really have more freedom for what I want to do creatively because of the loving foundation I've married myself into."
Cathy Schroeder was born in San Gabriel, California, in 1962, but her family moved to Tacoma, Washington, when she was ten. Growing up playing with Play-Doh, making mud pies, and fashioning pinch pots from local clay deposits, there was never any real doubt that Hammond would become a potter. She says her choice of careers was more or less confirmed in the seventh grade when an insensitive art teacher cut a pot she had made into four parts and demanded that she remake it because it didn't look like the preliminary drawing of it.
"That showed me that I could have the intent and work with the material to achieve the outcome I had originally planned," she explains. "I started young, but it didn't come naturally."
After graduating from high school in 1980, Hammond attended Western Washington University briefly, and then served a ceramics internship through the experimental Evergreen State College with potter F. Carlton Ball. In 1983, she followed her passion for clay to the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, one of the foremost ceramic arts and technology schools in the country. There, like generations of potters before her, Hammond fell under the spell of traditional Japanese pottery until her junior and senior year when floral and vegetative forms began appearing in her student work.
"That was where some of the color came in," she says, adding that it took her a long time to reach the purist prejudice that color was extraneous to ceramics. Her old mentor Carlton Ball, in fact, cautioned her against what he called "flash 'n' trash," color and ornamentation used to capture visual interest but adding nothing of real value to a piece of pottery.
After earning her BFA at Alfred in 1986, Hammond came east to Boston where she went to work for Cutter Ceramics, a pottery supply chain. In 1987, when Cutter Ceramics opened a store in South Portland, she headed north to manage it.
"I felt instinctively that Maine was the kind of place I wanted to live," Hammond says. "People here have the values I treasure, a real self-sufficient, do-it-yourself approach to life."
As manager of Cutter Ceramics, Hammond soon met many of the best ceramic artists in the region, among them Marian Baker, Lucy Breslin, Mark Johnson of the Maine College of Art ceramics faculty, and women who made Sawyer Street Studio in South Portland ground zero for pottery in Maine - Marian Baker, Lynn Duryea, Sharon Townshend, Abby Huntoon, and Nancy Nevergole. Hammond worked throwing pots for Lynn Duryea for a couple of years and eventually took studio space of her own in the Sawyer Street building. Through her Maine College of Art connections, she became a ceramics technician at the art school in 1992 and has since gone on to teach ceramics in both the continuing studies and BFA programs.
Cathy Hammond traces the origins of her current work to a commission she received a decade ago to create large Florentine-style urns for the Shawmut Inn in Kennebunkport. The owners wanted the urns to match the pink décor, so Hammond started experimenting with glaze formulation, one of the subjects she frequently teaches in workshops.
"My work started getting louder and riskier then, not as earthy anymore. There was a more floral influence."
In 1995, Hammond went to Italy with an art school tour group and, in a museum there, fell in love with a cloisonné pitcher, the form of which continues to influence her work. To animate the pitcher, she then began developing ever more colorful glazes - pinks, reds, yellows, purples, peaches, and corals.
"It's not traditional to see colors that bright used in large areas on a pot," Hammond says, "and I was using them in a stoneware temperature range. Those colors are much more common in earthenware pieces [which are fired at much lower temperatures]."
Hammond begins most pieces by throwing them on an electric pottery wheel. She then trims and hand-builds some elements before bisque-firing them in an electric kiln at around 1,800 degrees to harden them. She then applies her glazes to the bisque ware. But where most potters dip, brush, or pour their glazes, Hammond uses a compressor to spray them on. To do this requires a complex bit of manual choreography in which she spins the brittle, brown bisque-fired pot on a hand-turned wheel while holding a yogurt cup full of glaze in one hand and a spray nozzle in the other.
"Spraying," she explains, "gives me the ability to get the colors blending, so there are no visual transition lines. I like the varied tones."
Though she has done everything from raku to porcelain, all of her work at the moment is high-fire stoneware. When she is finished glazing the bisque ware, she then glaze-fires it in her largest kiln, taking it up to 2,140 degrees.
The metal shelves in Hammond's garage studio are filled with ceramic pieces in every stage of completion. Small pieces like cups sell for as little as $16 while larger and more ambitious pieces like soup tureens can fetch up to $500. She does sell out of her studio, but her primary outlets are Mainely Pottery in Belfast and Islesford Pottery on Little Cranberry Island where, until she got married, Hammond worked four summers alongside Maine College of Art ceramics professor Marian Baker.
"She's great," enthuses Marian Baker when asked for an assessment of Cathy Hammond's work. "She does very careful craftsmanship, making useful pots but adding an element of playfulness and whimsy. There's an organic sense to her work, almost vegetative, but sometimes like dresses, poofy and pink. She has a nice personal style and it's not something you see every day in the pottery world."
The past three years have clearly been transformational as Cathryn Lee Schroeder married Tom Hammond, became Cathy Hammond, moved to Hammond Heights in rural Lyman, and, two years ago, gave birth to son Nicholas. Now, she finds herself pursuing her ceramics career under a new name and from a new location, all the while teaching part-time at both Maine College of Art and Rivertree Center for the Arts in Kennebunk. And because of all the changes, Hammond says she's never been happier, the happiness she's found mystically finding its way through her hands and into her pottery.
"It's who I am," Hammond says. "Pottery and working in clay satisfies that need to be creative in the tactile sense . . . and I like being messy."