Picasso once said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” I always enjoyed working with patterns. As a child, I sewed clothes for my dolls and, as I got older, made my own clothes. I especially enjoyed playing with all the colors and patterns in the materials that were available. As life progressed, I enjoyed the quilting process and made quilts for my children and now grandchildren. I loved to mix and match color and patterns, and this similar process inspires me every morning using clay and the wheel. I throw a vessel form, and use the clay as my template. Sometimes, I break my form; play with texture and color, decorating each shard. I try to make interesting and compatible surfaces that dance and complement each other, making for a blend of expected and unexpected play upon the surface. They are fired in a saggar and reassembled after cooling. The final result, fragments of light, dark, and color bound by the original ceramic form, captivate the eye.
The inspiration for the clay objects I create also comes from my enduring interest in Native American pottery. I love the polished surfaces produced without any glaze. I have visited the Pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona and marveled at the beautiful landscape of the western states. My work echoes these influences. I see most of my work as sculptural rather than functional. I throw large open bowls and use them as a canvas. I collect many different natural combustible materials and, prior to firing, place them in and around my work. The fire and materials dance upon the clay and leave exciting random marks. The patterns left by the process invoke the fiery chaos of nature, contrasted with the calm and serene patterns reminiscent of cloudy sky-scapes and geologic formations.
Each of my pieces is one of a kind. Experimentation and risk taking is a large part of my process. Getting one successful piece out of many keeps me coming back and trying again.
Nationally recognized ceramic artist Irina Okula was born in Wolfen, East Germany during World War II. Her father, along with other engineers and scientists, was brought with his family to West Germany where they lived on an army base until they immigrated to the United States in the late 1940s. Irina received a BA from Fontbonne College and a MFA in Ceramics from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. She has also studied at the Boston Museum School, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and Penland School of Crafts.
Irina has exhibited widely along the East Coast, at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair, the Fruitlands Museum Exhibition, the Smithsonian Craft Show, CraftBoston Spring & Holiday Shows, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, the Fuller Craft Museum Biennial Members Exhibition, and in other prestigious venues. At the Smithsonian Craft Show, she won the Excellence in Ceramics Award in 2015 – the highest honor given to a sculptural ceramics artist – and at the Fuller Craft Museum she won the Juror’s Choice Award in 2014.
Her work is currently in the Exeter Fine Crafts Gallery in Exeter, NH; Hoadley Gallery in Lenox, MA; League of NH Craftsmen Fine Craft Galleries in multiple locations in New Hampshire; Snyderman-Works Galleries in Philadelphia PA; Lexicon Gallery in Magnolia, MA; Freehand Gallery in CA. and The Walsingham Gallery in Newburyport, MA.
Irina is also a renowned art educator at The Governor’s Academy in Byfield, MA. Her students win multiple Globe Scholastic Art and Writing Awards each year. In 2015, her students won 25 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, including ten Golds, nine Silvers, and six Honorable Mentions, more awards than students at any other New England school. In addition, two of the winners went on to garner national medals – a Gold and Silver – and have their work displayed in Washington, DC. The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers recognized Irina as an outstanding educator in 2012, noting that her students’ work is routinely selected for multiple national honors.