Reflecting on the Importance of Creativity With Ceramicist Erin Hupp

Erin Hupp (Photo by Adahlia Cole and Colin Peck)

If you really enjoyed making mud pies as a kid, you might have some hidden talent as a ceramicist. At least that is the case with Oakland-based ceramics artist Erin Hupp. And while she recognizes there has been a creative streak in her since childhood, it took following an entirely different career path to fully embrace the art that she is now doing full time.

“I always loved art and when I was really young, I made mud pies a lot. I loved getting dirty, which is a huge part of working with clay,” she reflects. “Recycling clay is a mud-pie experience. So I am basically doing the things I loved to do as a child. It all feels very full circle, and it’s fun at this age to look back and see that golden thread in your life.

“I came home to myself,” she says about the moment she switched to art as a full-time career. “When I was 22, I looked at what an artist’s life would be like and I didn’t think I would ever have financial security.” Hupp did a bit of ceramics in high school, but it was in college that she learned to be a production thrower, paid per piece at a place called Lakeside Pottery in Madison, Wisconsin, for items like beer steins, mugs and planters. It was a very repetitive process, and while that kind of production is far from her current style, she fell in love with the medium.

“What was so fun and formative of that time was that I just had fun with it. Clay communities are like knitting circles; people are just really welcoming and I found a family and a community,” she says. “It teaches you to let go a little bit, of whatever you are making. With that levity and that fun, you go out of your comfort zone, out of your bounds. You don’t get too attached.”

But as much as she loved it, she had to consider that “smart” career path post-college. So she threw herself into urban planning, then an accelerated program to get her law degree. After getting married and moving to California, she ended up working in child welfare law at a nonprofit in Marin called Advokids. Her work was providing legal assistance in navigating the brutal foster care system, and with a family of her own, she started burning out from the gigantic emotional load that was required in her day-to-day work. That is when her “midlife enlightenment” occurred, she says. “The finiteness of life propelled me into what perhaps I was made for all the time. I had always been part of a community studio, and clay was there the whole time. I thought, ‘You have been there for me all this time — what would happen if I devoted all of my energy to you?’ The answer is amazing things.”

a modern black vase with flowers in it
Photo by Adahlia Cole

That was almost six years ago, and Hupp says that while it was very nerve-racking to make that huge life change and creative leap into a full artist’s life, it is one of the best things she’s ever done. “It’s been a wild ride, and fun to find my niche,” she says.

That niche is beautifully impressive. If you’ve dined at San Francisco’s Californios, Nightbird or Hilda and Jesse, you will already know her undulating, curvy, organic style. Creating vessels to showcase dishes at some of our top-notch Bay Area restaurants has become her passion; she attributes the collaborative process and her love of food as the meeting point in what keeps her drawn to the work. There is also the element of letting go that is a commonality between working with clay and cooking.

“I’ve had so many conversations with chefs that I collaborate with about the ephemeral nature of the creative process. They make something and it’s immediately gone. And I remember being upset about smashing these ‘imperfect’ pots that I had made,” she says. “Clay is a beautiful teacher. You have to learn to let it go, just like in parenting.” She has recently started delving into interior design as well, creating functional pieces like vases, pendant lights, tableside lamps and wall installations.

A central tenet that Hupp recognizes in her work is that it takes a perfect piece to then achieve the imperfect. “That was an ‘aha’ moment: imperfect in a purposeful way,” she says. “When you throw something on the wheel you need it to be perfect before you change it. I get a lot of inspiration just from nature, and I know a lot of people say this but it’s really true.”

Marin holds significance for Hupp, as her parents live here and she often goes on walks with her mom. She finds Mount Tamalpais sparks a lot of creativity as a way to honor these surroundings. Hupp has discussed this at length with jewelry designer and collaborator Amanda Hunt, who also finds inspiration from Marin’s landscape. “It’s what inspired her diamond in the Aria ring (that is a part of the Mount Tam Ring and Dish Set). It is a really great example of collaboration and inspiration. I have a lot of feelings about that; it’s very personal,” says Hupp. Drop in at the duo’s pop-up on June 15 at Longway in San Anselmo to see their work in person.

black ceramic pieces with jewelry
Pieces from Hupp’s collaboration with jewelry designer Amanda Hunt (Photo by Adahlia Cole)