Ceramics brought to life by Susan Hall's nature-inspired paintings

Susan Hall
A platter by Susan Hall, who will open her studio to the public next weekend.  

Susan Hall is both a painter by nature and a painter drawn to nature. She may be best known for her West Marin scenes, but her new book, “Out of the Fire,” features photographs of and ruminations on her other love: ceramics. The 270-page coffee table book details Ms. Hall’s creative process, which she never wished to limit to one medium. “Living in New York City, artists had a tendency to focus everything in one way: they were painters, they were doing this or that,” said Ms. Hall, who lives in Point Reyes Station. “I’ve never had to choose one or the other. I just feel that people have many aspects to themselves.” The book showcases a range of works—bowls, plates, trivets, tables—but is divided into sections on the type of paintings that adorn them. Works with cats are a category unto themselves, as are those with boats, sheep and dogs. Her friend and co-author, Douglas Cruickshank, spends time at the beginning of each section describing why Ms. Hall is pulled toward these particular animals or facets of nature, and how she furnishes them with a unique touch. The mouse section features a plate with a mouse wearing a cat shawl, a trivet with a mouse applying lipstick and a plate painted with a mouse in a nautical outfit atop a Swiss cheese sailboat. “Hall’s mice have carved out a special territory for themselves,” Mr. Cruickshank writes. “They are amusing, yet earnest. Amazingly simple as rendered, yet complex in terms of their perceived emotional and intellectual lives.” Ms. Hall painted from the time she was 4 years old, but came to ceramics later in life after encouragement from a colleague at the University of Texas in San Antonio. After 20 years living in New York, she moved back to Point Reyes Station to help take care of her mother and found herself playing around with clay more and more. “I wasn’t interested in learning much about it because I’d already been a painter for 40 or 50 years,” she explained. “I’d developed quite a technical skill and wasn’t interested in anyone teaching me much—I just wanted to do it.” Soon, Cowgirl Creamery came knocking, and they have carried her ceramics for the past two decades. Pottery comes from clay, which is to say it derives its very being from the soil. This is part of what Ms. Hall loves about the art form; in the book she calls herself a lover of dirt and of clay. She uses low-fire clay, which she said is reminiscent of the dirt she played with as a child, and the sensual nature of working with it reminds her of West Marin’s beauty: a beauty that is of the earth. All of Ms. Hall’s pieces are made free hand, without the use of a wheel, resulting in shapes she calls a little “wonky.” She hopes those who come across her book “will learn to appreciate their own creativity and want to look deeper into their own story. And also, not having to make everything consistent. My ceramics are not consistent. There’s mice, there’s dogs, there’s flowers, there’s whatever. And it’s okay.” Susan Hall will host a book launch party at 3 p.m. on Friday, November 23 at 3 p.m. in her studio at 11445 Shoreline Highway, in Point Reyes Station. “Out of the Fire” is available at Leona’s, Point Reyes Books and Toby’s Feed Barn, and at SusanHallArt.com.