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Marianne Huotari in Glorian Koti

Marianne Huotari, ceramics artist and Finarte's chief designer, is overjoyed when she finds the right color combination — and is on the verge of world conquest.

Huotari, 37, Master of Arts, lives in Helsinki with her husband. She works in ceramics at the Arabia Art Association and is the chief designer at Finarte.

Exhibitions: Narrative Threads: Works by Eight Nordic Artists, until 17 February, Scandinavia House, New York. Clay Protagonists, until 31 March, RVNHUS, Kolding, Denmark.

Huotari was sitting in the kitchen of her grandmother's house in Kainuu, surrounded by yarn spools, thinking about what kind of instructions she would draw up for a piece of art she had designed for the ryijy [Finnish tapestry] competition.

—I was looking at the yarn puppets and I started thinking, Why couldn’t this be done in ceramics? How could I make a hard material look soft?

The idea of a ceramic doll did not leave her alone.

—At that moment, looking at the yarns I realized that I had found my own path. I had a strange certainty that this idea would work.

And so it has indeed worked. Marianne Huotari is fast becoming one of Finland's most internationally renowned ceramic artists.


"I’m an artistic designer by training, but my Master's degree at the Aalto gave me access to the world of performance. For my thesis I made stackable bowls. When I went to the ceramics studio with my bowl idea, I was welcomed with open arms. I was immediately hooked. The clay chose me.

Clay has its own character before which you have to humble yourself. I like to be challenged—and clay really does challenge you every day. You never know how the end result will turn out. Even if the temperature and glazing are exactly the same, you can't replicate the result. Maybe that's why ceramicists are so helpful to each other. The challenge of clay unites the craftsmen, even though each has their own professional secrets.

I introduced ceramic ryijys in 2015 at the ryijy competition. They are slow to make. I liken the process to making a traditional ryijy—I just sew with a thin iron thread, a piece of clay. Making a ceramic ryijy is full of steps where you can't go wrong.

It takes six months to make a two-meter wall piece, even if you do it every day. You really have time to think in front of it. Large works need to be carefully planned, thinking about all the shapes, colors, and parts, because in ceramics, no additional part is created in an instant.

I’ll work every day if I have a large work-in-progress or an exhibition coming up. In the last few years, this has been a constant. I was just on a short holiday for the first time in a couple of years. It felt amazing. On the other hand, my work often doesn't feel like work. I get to come here and play and use my imagination—and the more I use it, the better.

The best step in my work is when I have unlimited ready-made pieces and can use them to gradually bring my vision to life. I go into flow mode. Time becomes meaningless, eight hours can fly by. When I get home in the evening, I just want to get back to work. Despite what you might think, finishing the job doesn't feel as great. My thoughts are usually already on the next job.

I get nervous when I open the kiln and find that the whole ceramic set has turned too brown or the coating is bubbling. But I never throw anything away. In my Danish exhibition, I now have a pear-shaped piece called Pear Couture, which is a combination of my other pieces.

Kaiku is my first ceramic ryijy, and I have it at home. It's like an heirloom that I will never sell. I made it for Habitare [Furniture and Design Fair] in 2016 and that's where it all started. Suddenly, I was a ceramic ryijy maker. The Kaiku piece has a lovely relaxing core color scheme that still inspires me."

Responses are the best teachers. When I feel like a failure, I feel the urge to show off. In those moments, big developmental leaps are made.

I knew I wanted to be an artist from the age of 13. I was an "A" girl, but I didn't get an "A" in art. It felt absolutely horrible, I couldn't understand it. I was too slow to draw. I got bogged down in details and couldn't finish any of my work on time. But in high school I crossed a line, I could do three-dimensional things and I found my own style.

As Finarte's chief designer, I want to encourage people to use color. In Finland, it's easy to think that white is the only timeless color, which is silly.

I'm always thrilled when I see a rug or quilt I've designed on TV or in a magazine article. I'm happy to design objects that are part of people's everyday lives.

My colors are pink, light green, and gold. This palette of three colors has been with me since my first clay works. Of course, my color palette is constantly changing and evolving. All colors are beautiful, it's all about finding the right combinations. When I find a new color pair that works, I feel physically good.

Our new home does not have a single white wall. The bedroom is straw yellow, the living room is flamingo. I’m energized by color, and so, thankfully, is my spouse. We've been together so long, I think I've affected him. When we were planning the renovation, he actually encouraged me to go a little more colorful.

I am thankful to be at this point professionally. I don't have any unsold work sitting in my studio. Everything has been commissioned or goes straight to exhibitions abroad. I just cleared my calendar as my first solo show in New York is planned for 2025. I want to do something big and amazing there.

I’ve been thinking all the time about how to improve my work. I have ideas about what kind of ceramic ryijy I'd like to make in a decade's time, how it might evolve—whether it would be more three-dimensional, escaping further from the wall, spilling out onto the floor, as traditional ryijy used to do. I want to see how far this can go."

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