Writer Katherine Braden
Photographer Loralei Lazurek
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]follow Christiane Barbato across her backyard and into a small white hut. Inside, dozens of unglazed clay pots and bowls rest upside-down on shelves, waiting. It’s bright and dusty, and the air smells earthy, like dirt and sunshine. A long table stands in the middle. Christiane turns to me, smiling.
“This is my studio,” she says.
For Christiane, it all officially started a few years ago. Unhappy with the plates she had at home, she decided to make her own. She’d been making pottery since high school, but it had always been a hobby. Once friends saw her homemade plates, however, they asked if they could order some for themselves.
With a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business, Christiane sensed an opportunity. She sold to her friends and started a website, putting her work online. In 2013, she relocated to a house in Phoenix. But there was a problem: The door of her new home was a nasty shade of green. Undeterred, Christiane painted it a bright, happy blue. Inspiration hit, and she named her business Blue Door Ceramics. And just like that, her hobby became her full-time job.
“It’s perfect for me,” says the mother of three, ages 9 to 18. “I need to be very present for my children and my work.” Christiane’s self-made schedule allows her to be flexible, dedicating time to both. “After [my children] go to bed, I have to go back to the studio.”
Christiane works Sunday to Sunday, four to six hours a day. She has to get up early to glaze outside, or else the sun will be too hot.
“Most of the days, I work in a bikini, sunscreen, hat and flip-flops,” she says.
Before she begins her work, however, she meditates. For her, it’s a way to sync with God, surrender and leave all problems behind. It’s also how she receives inspiration. She tells me she recommends everyone do it, but especially artists.
Then, using California clay, Christiane shapes her pieces. Most of the time she makes plates or mugs. Bowls are her favorite; they leave room for so much creativity.
Christiane is inspired by organic shapes, such as tropical plants and fruits. She molds her bowls around rocks or watermelons, presses leaves into plates or shells into mugs. Sometimes she uses the potter’s wheel, but she doesn’t love the uniformity it produces. She likes all of her pieces to feel organic. Christiane shows me mugs made on the wheel where she has purposefully pushed in one of the sides to give them a less perfect, less uniform feel.
She must then dry the piece, a four- to seven-day process that involves carefully covering the clay to prevent cracking.
Next, a bisque firing prepares the clay to receive the glaze. Then, she glazes. She loves the colors turquoise, gray and off-white. She also decorates the bottoms of her ceramics, an idea that was inspired by a bowl she bought from a Brazilian Indian tribe in Mato Grosso — a large state in the country — that was painted on the bottom.
After she glazes the piece, it again goes into the kiln, where it is fired at 2,200 degrees for 12 hours. It takes another 12 to 24 hours for the kiln to cool down. Finally, the piece is ready to be wrapped and shipped.
It takes at least two weeks to complete a piece, and it’s a delicate procedure. One mistake can ruin hours of work.
“There’s no way to speed up the process,” says Christiane. Clay teaches you to be patient, and it’s a stern teacher. “Also, you can never get attached to anything you make because it might crack.”
But working with clay is something that Christiane has enjoyed doing for many years.
Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, Christiane was a high school exchange student at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale in 1983. It’s where her love for pottery, and Arizona, first began.
“I love [Phoenix],” she says. “I always felt like I belonged here. Like it was my place.”
She moved back to Brazil, went to college, got her master’s and started her own hotel and spa, which she ran for six years. The whole time, she dabbled with clay as a hobby. By the time she was 40, however, she decided it was time to be happy, so she moved back to Phoenix. Now, she makes plates for spas and restaurants.
“Funny how life goes around,” she says. Christiane has made plateware for more than six restaurants, and her work has been featured in cookbooks and gallery shows. She also does wedding registries.
A portion of all Blue Door Ceramics proceeds are donated to the charity Casa Brazil. An organization near to Christiane’s heart, Casa Brazil helps to feed and clothe impoverished children in Northern Brazil.
“I really want to be able to help them more,” she tells me. She does what she can, donating her pieces to their silent auction and assisting them with events. Giving to them “makes [her] heart really happy.”
Mother, businesswoman, benefactor, artist: Christiane works hard, but it’s obvious she passionately loves everything she does. I ask her advice for anyone thinking of becoming an artist full-time.
It’s totally doable, she says. She stresses there’s no such thing as a starving artist.
“Don’t think an artist can’t make a living,” she says. It’s important, Christiane tells me, to always be professional, and treat your work as you would treat work in a corporate world.
However, it’s also essential to stay true to who you are and make things that give you pleasure.
“I’m only going to make things I like,” she says. “You don’t have to please everyone when you make something, but you must trust there are people out there looking for what you have to sell … someone who wants exactly what you have.”
Christiane likes to envision her clients as “goodhearted people who travel, are adventurous and kind.” Her ceramics are infused with her joy and love, and she hopes it blesses the homes and people who use it.
Her dream? To do what she loves, help others and make a difference in the world. And she’s doing it — joyfully, warmly. One plate at a time.
You can find Christiane at the Sonoran Arts League’s Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour and Sale this November, as well as the Italian Festival and open studios at her home.