Mary Kate Elfelt
Senior ceramics major with a business concentration from Milwaukee, Wis.
Some people can make cool vases, fun planters or pretty plates. Some people can even make ceramic coffee mugs — hello, Starbucks. Senior Mary Kate Elfelt’s portfolio, however, abounds with ceramic viruses, cups with noses and mustaches and labor-intensive ceramic leaves.
Though it was only cultivated a bit over two years ago, Elfelt’s love of ceramics has taken her to new creative heights and produced extremely unique work. Elfelt didn’t always spend all of her free time in the Haggerty Art Village, poking a billion holes in a mound of clay that would later be a ceramic coral reef.
In fact, before her sophomore year, Elfelt hadn’t considered ceramics as a possible career path. Prior to her Rome semester, she was a business major who had scarcely touched clay.
“During the Rome semester, I had an existential crisis,” Elfelt said. “I hated being a business major — sorry guys — and considered dropping out of school after sophomore year to reevaluate. The following semester, I dropped my business classes and took some art classes just for fun. I ended up accidentally spending a lot of all-nighters after losing track of time while working. Working with your hands to turn daydreams into something you can touch and hold was pretty humbling.”
Ceramics immediately captured Elfelt’s interest, and free time, because of its unique art form.
“I had a ‘whoa’ moment when I made my first bottle,” Elfelt said. “With my own two hands, I made something that actually contained a liquid without spilling a drop. Call me a dork, but that was awesome. Other than that, I truly enjoy reading about and working through glaze chemistry, what’s required for making a good clay body, and the different types of kiln firings. A lot more goes on here than most people may think.”
She attributes her greatest inspiration to the world around her.
“There is an insane amount of detail in the plan of our Earth, and simply sitting in the grass is enough for me to have another idea for a piece,” Elfelt said. “The big man upstairs gives all the inspiration you need.”
Elfelt hopes to utilize her love for ceramics to better the world around her.
“I want to be an ‘artivist’ — an activist who uses art to support a cause,” Elfelt said. “One of my favorite artists, Courtney Mattison, makes stunning coral arrangements that raise awareness for the dying ocean reefs. It’s amazing that something so beautiful and non-utilitarian can actually do a lot of good. My next project after my time at this studio will be installation work that addresses food waste, which is a huge American problem. We need to not only know where our food comes from, but where it’s going as well.
“Within the next ten years or so, I want to build a fine art and community center on a farm that employs veterans and others in danger of homelessness. Creating something beautiful and useful gives you a lot of self worth, which is a necessary part of a constructive life and just being a happy and healthy person. Hopefully grad school is also on the horizon, but we’ll have to wait and see.”