Text by Bethany Adams
Julie Spako’s ceramics business started with a Christmas present. After studying the subject while earning a degree in printmaking at Syracuse University, she took time off from her art to raise her twin boys. “And then in 2012, for Christmas, my husband gave me a ceramics class as a gift,” she says. “I was always buying all kinds of pottery and he thought I should start making it.”
What started as a hobby quickly grew into a passion. Over time, Julie developed a style of pottery she hadn’t been able to find among the shops in her area. “I was always inspired by my grandmother’s Blue Willow collection,” she explains. “She was English, and she had a lot of different blue-and-white pottery from England. And we would use it every day.”
Her grandmother’s collection was a major influence on Julie’s own work, informing not just the color and delicacy of the designs but also their functionality. “I think that’s the most important thing, that they can be used every day,” she says. To that end, she makes sure her pieces are food-safe as well as suitable for the microwave and dishwasher.
After hand-building each piece, Julie fires her porcelain in an electric kiln at a high temperature in order to ensure it’s durable enough for daily use. Her platters, plates, bowls, and more feature elegantly simple designs and patterns reminiscent of watercolor paintings—the result of extensive research and experimentation with slips and underglazes.
“Ultimately, I found that I liked the way my patterns looked once I altered them with a glaze on top of them,” Julie says, noting that her glazes will never fade or change. “And then I finally just evolved within that more.”
That evolution can be seen in her red-and-white pieces, inspired by a style of embroidery called redwork, as well as her line featuring free-form birds. “I’m always trying new things,” she says, adding that she tries a new form or design with every load she puts into the kiln. But through every change, it all goes back to a Christmas present and her grandmother’s Blue Willow.