In her junior year at Tulane, Rachael DePauw had finished the requirements for a degree in political economy. She decided to take a pottery elective – and Cupid’s clay arrow struck. “I was obsessed,” said DePauw. “It was a compulsion. You couldn’t have told me to do anything else.”
The pivot to potting was a departure, but DePauw approached her ceramic art with keen business sense. The Tulane alumna found early inspiration in the rich history and tradition of Newcomb pottery, developing a unique style that would prove both creatively exciting and commercially appealing.
“It was a perfect way to make work that I thought was visually engaging but also historically anchored in the city,” said DePauw, a native of St. Louis, Missouri. Her intricately textured pieces earned a devoted following, drawing customers to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s craft village, an Etsy shop (home to DePauw’s signature ceramic house number plaques), her Broadmoor studio, and select local retailers.
After a decade of producing pottery (and caring for three young children), DePauw found herself seeking creative revitalization. Last fall, she spent six weeks at North Carolina’s Penland School of Craft, trying “every technique under the sun.” The exploration led DePauw toward terracotta-like clay, which she enhances with rich textures and blocks of bold color. She will display the new body of work at this year’s Jazz Fest and acknowledges feeling butterflies at sharing a new creative direction. “It’s sort of scary,” said DePauw. “To pivot feels risky… but creativity takes time and exploration.”
In DePauw’s mind, the growing demand for handcrafted pottery stems from nostalgia for handmade items and an even deeper need for connection: “Maybe it’s because we’re all in our screens and clay is such a tactile medium. Maybe people are craving touch after three years of Covid.” She also believes people are drawn to the accessibility of art that serves a functional role. “If you’re a coffee drinker, you pick up one of my mugs every morning and drink from it. You can feel each line I carve into the piece – textures, ridges… it’s obvious that it’s made by somebody.”
DePauw Pottery, @depauwpottery