Young Artist Throws Her Life Away

At just 22, Caroline Reehl is throwing her life away.

The sun is just beginning to peek through the clouds as Reehl makes her way into her kitchen. She opens up the window that overlooks a thick wooded area of Mountain Brook in Birmingham, Ala. A single light hangs over the area where a normal person’s dinner table would be situated.

But Reehl’s lifestyle if far from normal.

She turns on some JJ Grey and Mofro and assumes the position she will be situated in for the next couple of hours. As the cool breeze comes through the window it creates a mixture with the tunes. This one bedroom apartment begins to become the atmosphere Reehl loves.

Her trained hands take the wheel and she begins her day. The life of a potter isn’t your typical Susie Homemaker sort of gig. And perhaps this might be what appealed to Reehl so much in the first place.

” I never have fit into one certain crowd. I was always trying to find my place as an athlete or an artist and even a sorority girl,” Reehl laughed. ” But when I found pottery I fell in love with it because I found myself lost in the art itself.”

When Reehl graduated from the University of Mississippi last December, the inspiration she used for her thesis project has become her signature mark in a world full of clay. Her inspiration is Southern women.

During the time when Reehl was busy with graduation and formulating her senior thesis show, she came back home to Fairhope in order to participate in the Nutcracker Charity Ball in Mobile. This was the time when Reehl was searching for a connection between herself as a potter and also a debutant.

” I had to embrace myself as a girl who loves wearing high heels and pearls as well as someone who is constantly getting dirty all the time,” Reehl said. “I think that’s what being a Southern woman is all about.”

Reehl knew that she wanted to portray these women through her work in a not-so-in-your-face kind of a way, but in a more subtle way. Her time at home triggered the creative forces in her head and she knew exactly what could give the untamed, vivid and luxuriant look she was searching for to define Southern women —  flowers.

All of Reehl’s pieces feature roses or lilies, and sometimes even a mixture of both. Each petal is made individually by hand and then put together to make one single flower. And though this process may seem tedious and time consuming, Reehl assured us that this is the only way to fully do justice to each flower and what they represent.

” The flowers show internal strength and external beauty,” Reehl said proudly. ” Every petal is unique and has its own quality, whether it’s sharp, strong, fragile, beautiful or sensitive. Each individual piece has its own personality, no two of them are anything alike. That’s on of my favorite aspects of this body of work.”

Currently Reehl lives in Birmingham. She made the move so she could commute to the University of Alabama’s School of Interior Design where she was enrolled last spring. But, as intriguing as interior design may be to this Southern Belle, she knew her heart was in the clay.

“When I started making pottery I figured it was just going to be a hobby, you know?,” Reehl said with a humbled smile on her face. “But as of right now, it has taken over my life and with the way things are going it’s looking like it could possibly be my career.”

She has been potting away non-stop since December . She is currently working on a custom order for a customer in Oklahoma. And ever since she became available through the Web, orders have become a steady part of Reehl’s business.

“I launched my Website in January and started to get calls from people all over the southeast purchasing and placing orders for custom pieces,” Reehl said.

But her pieces aren’t only available via the Internet. They can be found other places.  Just last week an art gallery in Atlanta, Ga., which features 55 artist, approached Reehl,  extending  an invitation to showcase her work in their gallery.

“I think having work in Atlanta would be an amazing opportunity,” Reehl said. “The fact that they even approached me is humbling in itself.”

Dealing with custom orders, trying to decide what kind of galleries fit her type of style are just two of the things Reehl has to worry about. However, there are more stressful things which a potter faces.

One of the most difficult things Reehl expressed about being a potter is the uncertainty of how pieces will turn out after they have been fired, especially with the firing-process she uses on her pieces, which are wood and soda. Both techniques are completely atmospheric.

“I’m pretty much at the mercy of the kiln,” Reehl chuckled. “Sometimes things come out looking fantastic, and other times not so much. If a piece looks terrible than there isn’t much I can do with it. I’m not going to sell someone a hideous piece.”

The day-to-stay stress Reehl faces hasn’t phased her love for pottery, though.

“When I sit down at the wheel and begin working on a piece, I lose myself in it.”

“Working with the clay gives me the ability to have control over something. So, I slow it down and in that moment I’m slowing my life down also,” Reehl said. “Everything is right when I’m working with the clay. We are both at each others mercy.”

The original title of this story, as published in Lagniappe: Reehl is ‘throwing her life’ away. It originally appeared in the June 1, 2010, print edition.