Mollie: Ceramics Artist

Getting to know ceramics artist Mollie Jenkins and her art is a bit like stepping back in time to a place of simpler, yet more intentional living and creating. Born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, the South rubbed off on Mollie in all the best ways, and it has had the same effect on her art. Her pieces are more like family heirlooms, beloved and passed down from generation to generation, than modern pottery created with less than ten years of experience; they whisper timelessness, in a humble voice, with colors that are just as easy on the eyes as the interiors they serve.

Mollie’s first memory of ceramics was at a school event in the first grade, watching a potter who came in for the day show students how to wire a vase off the wheel. She didn’t take her first ceramics class until her senior year of high school, and it wasn’t until college at Auburn University that she realized the pottery collection accumulating in the bottom of her closet could become a career. She needed funds for more clay, so she hosted her very first art show, and that success propelled her onward from graduation to Nashville, Tennessee, where she joined a community of likeminded artists and craftsmen focused on supporting and encouraging the handmade.

While Nashville provided a creative community for Mollie to thrive in, home was in Georgia, so she packed her bags and headed back to her hometown, a place where she finds “ease and comfort” surrounded by family and friends who were the first to support her art and provide the strongest foundation for her still. “I am very fortunate that there are so many other females in the art community in Columbus who are great to lean on or ask advice when needed.”

While her local network is sustaining, Mollie works best alone, rising at 5 AM each day, working solo in her studio until 6:30 PM with only music as her companion, listening to everything from country and acoustic chords to ‘90s hits, classical jazz, and oldies. In between tasks she eats lunch at home and helps out around the house, answering emails and dealing with website duties early in the morning, so she can work with a clear head while she is at the wheel.

“I have noticed if my personal life is not in order, or I am really stressed about something when I come in to throw on the wheel, that is noticeable right off the bat. In pottery there is a term called having your clay ‘centered,’ and I find that if my personal life or mindset is not ‘centered,’ then I need to take a step back to straighten up whatever is chaotic, and once that is resolved or at peace, I can get back to throwing.”

While life can get in the way of her craft, it is the feeling in her hands while she is creating that she constantly longs for and continually pulls her back to pottery.

“Throwing on the wheel is all about feel, sanding work is all about feel, glazing items is all about the feel of how thick the glaze is, pulling handles is about the feel. My hands are imperative to the process. When I am throwing, I notice I do not have to look at the clay much to know what I am making—it is all by feel.”

As far as design, function always comes first.

“I do my best to make sure an item is intentional and will be loved for many years to come. Functionality drives me to make sure it will not be another item collecting dust on a shelf. With step two comes beauty. The glazes I choose add the finish that is needed to complete each piece.”

With each decision in the studio, Mollie hopes to create a piece that will stop someone in their tracks to observe and appreciate the item in hand.

“The highest compliment I can receive is someone thinking twice about my work. We live in an overstimulated age, so for someone to take a second and think about the mug they are holding, or the plate they are eating off of, that means the world to me.”

What she finds difficult is a question: What’s next?

“Ceramics is a very long process that cannot be rushed, so often times it takes me months to get a product down that I am happy with, so this expectation of ‘What are you doing next?’ can be a tricky one.”

While she admits that owning her own business entails exhausting hours, she says she still goes to sleep each night with a grin on her face.

“The enjoyment and happiness I get from being able to steer my own life and business is incomparable.”

Reflecting on a memory from her college graduation night in Auburn, she remembers a woman she met who asked her what degree she was graduating with. Molly proudly responded, “An art degree with a concentration in ceramics.” She was immediately met with a sarcastic response: “Ha! Good luck with that!” It is a moment Mollie has carried with her every step of her career.

“I realized later that all sorts of folks want to tell you that you cannot do something. For me that is even more incentive to prove them wrong.”

For more on Mollie and her collection of dinnerware, houseware, and other pieces, check out her website, follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or reach out via email to connect or collaborate.

Mollie in Ten

  • Age: 25
  • Awards: Runner-Up in the Home category for Garden & Gun’s 2017 Made in the South Awards
  • Interesting fact: Designed and created the custom dinnerware seen in James Beard Award-Winning Chef Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk Savannah
  • Press: Edible Nashville, Woman’s Day, Food & Wine, and Country Living
  • Alternative Dream Career: Chef
  • Biggest fear: A piece exploding in the kiln
  • Role Models: Lulie Wallace & Teil Duncan. “They are both from my hometown, and as I was going through college, I would follow along with their blossoming painting careers. It was so cool to me that they were doing this as a JOB instead of just a hobby.”
  • Favorite Piece of Her Own: A custom-made vase covered in handmade flowers for a wedding (see picture below)
  • Hobbies: She’s currently teaching herself how to make bread
  • Reading: Anything about cooking or investing 

Kim: Artist

When you stand face to face with the bold colors and painstaking attention to detail so alive in her artwork, you can’t help but imagine what the world must look like through the eyes of artist, Kimberly Holloway Zukley. What appears to be nothing more than a scaly fish skin becomes an intricate world of texture, color, and shapes. An animal hide becomes an algorithm of patterns so sophisticated and intentional it’s as if the design of the fur was created first—the heartbeat—and the animal and its purpose came afterward; a mystery laid out in nature the way it was intended but only solved when seen with a unique set of eyes. In this case they are the eyes of a coastal Alabama artist, one very familiar with the land and water surrounding her and the creatures who call it home.

It’s easy to recognize the influence Kim’s childhood in Fort Pierce, Florida, and current life in Mobile, Alabama, have on her artwork. Her Hides x Skins™ collection boasts the bright flashes of vibrant life on the water coupled with a deep familiarity of life in the woods. The old adage “write what you know” fits snugly in Kim’s artistic process as well. With an avid fisherman and hunter for a husband, she is never in short supply of subjects to work with when painting what she knows.

But as a young girl growing up in a conservative town in the South, wildlife was not her first muse. Instead she focused on drawing all of the things she wanted but was not allowed at home: makeup, fancy dresses, and high heels. She also learned a lot observing her father use his hands in fix-it projects around the house, or her mother hand-sewing curtains, constant lessons in constructing and deconstructing, creating and transforming.

When she enrolled at the University of Mississippi for college, Kim started out as a business major, but thanks to a couple of failed attempts at business calculus, she landed in the art department. There she was educated and molded by several mentors who changed the direction of her life and planted a seed that made art as a career a possibility.

Following graduation she secured a job in graphic design and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she learned her way around the marketing and corporate world, gaining skills that would be crucial for her later on as a business owner. Shortly thereafter her college sweetheart proposed, and she made the move further south to his hometown of Mobile, where she slowly began to take on art commissions. After the birth of their son, Bob, Kim hit the ground running, trusting her instinct to paint from her heart, and this risk was met with great success: she officially became a full-time artist.

“My biggest reward is the process. I have so much fun painting. There’s so much discovery to be made if you just get to the moving and making.”

And Kim seems to move and make—a lot. Her versatility as an artist is evident in the many mediums she seems to jump seamlessly between, mixing stones and resin, ink and acrylic. If you’re wondering how she manages to achieve this, her personal identification with one classic artist might help: “I’d consider myself more of a Monet. Raphael was dedicated to detail and spent hundreds of hours (hundreds!) on one piece. That is not me. I work quick and experimentally.”

But do not be mistaken; this in no way means the process is any easier for her.

“I go through the same sequence of emotions when creating every single piece of art. I start out by getting inspired, and I can’t wait to get in my studio. Then I start, and it’s really fun pushing your ideas around on the blank canvas. The middle of the process is always weird. You start to question each mark in fear that you’re getting away from your initial plan and vision. Then you start to really hate what’s happening. So many times, halfway through a painting, I’m like, ‘This is shit.’ Then I just keep working, and I start to like it more and more. Finally I finish, and it’s the coolest, most favorite piece I’ve ever done.

It’s a whirlwind and can be emotionally exhausting. I think the key is perseverance. You have to trust your subconscious and everything that you’ve been taught and cross the finish line. It’s pretty rewarding once you do.”

When she does face bouts of blocked creativity, Kim likes to wander into an art store, grab a medium she’s unfamiliar with, and dive right in. The pure confidence that simple act requires is enough to marvel at on its own. Her personality as an artist is so full of unrestrained adventure, childlike in the best way, which could also be attributed to her recently becoming a mother and how that turned her creative process on its head. “Bob will start drawing on a piece of paper, and his primitive-like marks are just so different and beautiful. I try and replicate that in all of my pieces. In a way, you have to ‘untrain’ your brain.”

In terms of design principles, color moves her most. “I spend most of my time improving color relationships. All colors are important in different settings.

You may not like the color purple, but I can make you like the color purple.”

Texture also plays a big role in her aesthetic, especially in her new series combining acrylic, crystal, and resin. “My favorite artists make paintings that I can’t resist to touch, so I definitely try to create that same emotional response in my own art.”

For an artist who seems to have it all figured out, she still admits to struggling with the fear of remaining relevant. When asked what art means to her, Kim responded,

“‘What do I mean to art?’ is really the question I care about. I hope I give the industry something.”

While she is obviously a force to be reckoned with on her own, Kim is greatly inspired by collaboration and a strong believer that two artists are always better than one. She hopes to inspire other artists to enter the field and echoes one of her favorite designers, Ericka Cook, in stating:

“I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.”

Kim in Ten:

  1. Artist Role Model: All of the artists in the Vatican. “You make something that lasts over 1,000 years—on your back…”
  2. Favorite Piece of Art She’s Created: An unfinished master copy of Raphael’s ‘Madonna and Child.’
  3. Favorite Medium: Sculpture. She once made a 3D sculpture out of popcorn being poured by an invisible man for an art display in college.
  4. Most Known For: She is Instafamous via her dog Peanut’s Instagram.
  5. Favorite Current Artist: Ashley Longshore. “Just follow her on Instagram and your quality of life will get better, I promise.”
  6. Hidden Talent: She used to sing in competition choirs.
  7. Biggest Fear: Her work ending up at a yard sale or thrift shop.
  8. If not art, what?: Fashion designer, chef, singer, advertising agent, interior designer…”There’s simply not enough hours in one life to experience all of the creative outlets that excite me.”
  9. Advice to Side Hustler Kim: “Don’t do anything for free. Not even for exposure. Donations are different, but you’re hurting the business when you do service or work for free.”
  10. Best Advice for Side Hustlers: “Keep taking clients until you don’t have time for your day job.”

For more on Kim’s current work, check out her website, follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or reach out directly via email to connect or collaborate!

Professional photography: Jennie Tewell Photography