Kelly Guenther is not only an award-winning photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography with The New York Times and one of a handful of photographers who pioneered the wedding photojournalism style, she is also an artist in the field of ceramics.
Kelly Guenther recently opened a studio in San Pancho to share her knowledge and love of pottery. Ceramica San Pancho offers group and private pottery classes for beginner to advanced students in wheel and hand-building techniques.
I had the opportunity to talk to Kelly previously about her experience with photography, and we have the chance now to hear about her newest ceramics project and her history with this art.
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I'm Kelly, I was a New Yorker for almost 20yrs and traded in my MetroCard for a surfboard full-time 5yrs ago. I have a degree in photojournalism and a minor in ceramics. I've been making ceramics for about 20yrs. I also started Batala San Pancho, a big community band here so between the band, teaching ceramics, shooting weddings and events, and taking care of my 3 rescue dogs I have a very full life.
- What inspired you to start your business here in Sayulita?
During Covid, all of my event photography work ended abruptly. I already had a private ceramic studio here for my own work and decided to open it up to students during the pandemic. We all seemed to have a lot of time on our hands and people wanted to connect to their creative side, to ground in the mud, to explore. I bought 2 more wheels, imported tons of clay and materials from the states and have since had over 50 students!
- What do you love about ceramics?
I love having a connection to a handmade object that I use every day. All of my cups, plates, and bowls were made by hand...there is a different vibration to a handmade object. I love giving so much attention to a simple object like a cup but treating it as a work of sculpture where every single detail has intention behind it. It gives purpose, ceremony, grounding to the everyday moments. But it is the act of creating that is just a part of me that I have to do. Clay is the medium I connect with most because it is instant, it is the earth, yet there are many phases of creation with ceramics, from throwing on the wheel, creating form then decorating that form...it's like working on a 3d canvas.
- What services do you provide?
I teach classes in wheel and hand-building techniques. I also work on commission for various restaurants to make their tableware, cups, plates, bowls and sell my larger sculptures. And most recently I have teamed up with a partner to create KG&D custom lighting. We create one-of-a-kind lighting combining Ceramics and macramé. They are really beautiful and feel so much like Sayulita/San Pancho. We work directly with clients and designers to create custom pieces for the home.
- What is your process for creating customized services for your clients?
For those looking to commission me to create custom work, it usually starts with a studio visit. We discuss ideas, I'll make sketches then I will usually create a few samples designs for them to choose from. I keep them informed during the process and we make choices together along the way. Half payment is due for me to start making the work and the rest is due on delivery. For the custom lights, my partner and I will visit your home, sometimes bring samples, and take measurements. Then I create the ceramic frame and pass the piece to my partner to weave the macrame. It typically takes 4-6 weeks to create a finished piece.
- What can guests expect in the experience?
From the classes? A fun, supportive environment to try something new. I LOVE teaching ceramics, especially the wheel. I'm also a yoga teacher, and I find the wheel to be such a teacher about finding peace, stillness, focus, joy...learning to use the wheel is a process. Learning how to center this lump of clay takes a lot of patience...you need to be the calm center in order to bring the clay into the center. It's a very meditative process. I have really good methods of specific techniques for centering and throwing that bring my students success almost immediately. By the 2nd class, they are centering clay and making cups. At the end of the 8 classes, they will be drinking tea out of their own handmade mug. It's so rewarding. And I love creating a community of artists. Classes are small, just 3 people in my private garden but they can interact during open studio hours. People have made some great friendships, I like helping people to connect while all trying something new and different, having a common experience.
- Can you share a memorable happy client story?
I really do feel that how you are on the wheel can be a metaphor for how you are in life. I had a student sharing about a recent difficult relationship while working on the wheel and she just could not center the clay that day....we took a time out, took time to focus, and looked at her body positioning; ground through your feet, bring your heart forward, let your heart be centered, breathe...these simple instructions helped her to center her clay, things finally clicked! and the idea of being heart forward as just a human being, as a more open person, was something that resonated.... and I just ran into someone who bought a mug of mine and she was sharing how much it meant to her to have this mug with her while she was traveling, staying in a different house every night, but to have the same mug, made by me, helped her to ground. To feel like she carried home with her in her hands every morning while drinking her coffee.
- How long have you been creating art?
Since I was a kid I always loved to draw. I was in high school when I first tried the wheel and ceramics was my minor in college I've been making ceramics for about 25yrs. I taught ceramics when I first moved to NYC in '98 for a couple of years and then started teaching here again in 2020.
- How did you get started?
I really caught the clay bug in college, it was officially my minor but I spent more time in the studio than anywhere else. I was obsessed! Malcom Mobutu Smith was my professor and he expanded my mind about what clay can do...25yrs later I still pull all-nighters like I did in college, listening to the same loud music in my headphones while in the creative zone. My work has changed so much over the years...but my process is the same. Lots and lots of time in the studio, making making making, and destroying! I have a "smash wall" for all work I don't like, comes in handy when I need to let out some frustrations! And my neighbor kids love to come over to break stuff. ha!
- What are your favorite aspects of Sayulita?
I came to Sayulita on vacation in 2015 and returned each winter for 2yrs until I finally decided to leave the states and move here full time in 2016/17. I'm in San Pancho now so I'll talk about that...it's the 1st place I've ever lived where the word community is backed up by actions. I call someone, they are there for me, you walk down the street, you have 5 great conversations with friends. we all literally support one another, taking each other's classes, buying from local artists, restaurants...we are our own little sustainable ecosystem of humans sharing, creating, living, laughing, crying together. we sit in ceremony together, we know each other's stories, we go beneath the surface, we express ourselves, we dance, we play music...we all seem to have found our way here from all over the world, we were called to be here. and if you really feel the call, you give back, you become an active member of the community and I just feel so...really grateful to be a part of this community. to have found my home.
- What does your business offer that separates it from the rest?
We have a fully operational ceramic studio with 3 electric wheels, kiln, slab roller, and glazes imported from the states. We fire to cone 5/6 and work with clay and glazes imported from the states. The glazes we offer are mixed by hand for dipping and pouring, it is very rare to find a studio with this kind of glazes here. I offer personalized instruction and lots of open studio time included in the cost of the classes where you can come into the studio during open studio hours (10hrs a week) and continue to practice and make work. The studio itself is tucked into my giant private garden, so it's a stunning environment in which to create. We also have an end-of-the-semester show where students see their finished work displayed and we have a group critique to develop the language to talk about our work. Again creating community around ceramics.
- Any other information you would like to add?
I offer intensive wheel classes several times a year and private lessons. If you feel the need to connect with your creative side clay is an amazing outlet. For any local restaurants and hotels, I love to create custom cups, plates, bowls to elevate the dining experience for your customers.
For hotels and architects and those building or decorating a home; I know how hard it is to find good, custom lighting which is why I started my lighting company KG&D. We make amazing hanging pendant lights and sconces and can custom design lights that look as good on and they do off. We think of them as hanging sculptures. We love to collaborate!
To learn more or for inquires or to reserve classes, visit Ceramica San Pancho.
Written and Edited by Amy Rose Pearson