May 05, 2024

Christine Willis: 50 Years a Potter


Editor’s note: In our midst here in Greece are some interesting people. Some are creative, some have interesting experiences to share, some are ‘just folks’ but good and caring. If we’re lucky, we’ll run into them at a meeting or a Happy Hour. Between political tracts, we’ve tried to introduce a few, but we know we’ve only just scratched the surface! If you know one, send us your recommendation.


by Linda Manney, Thessaloniki

Christine Willis, whose pottery will be on display in Athens, May 17-25, is Thessaloniki-based ceramic artist who has practiced her craft in Greece for the past fifty years. Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Christine currently lives in a rural area near Thessaloniki, where she creates most of her art.  In addition to managing a small business, Willis Ceramics, Christine teaches ceramic arts and manages a ceramics studio at the American Farm School, Thessaloniki.

Scroll down to see a few of Christine's pieces. To learn more about her first, start here:

When asked what major influences have shaped her work, Christine says, “A lot of my influence came from looking at Ancient Greek pottery in all the museums all over. I still go to museums today, and I take so many photographs of all the pots sitting on the shelves.”  She is also inspired by the shape of the female body, and sees the female form as elegant and perfectly proportioned.

Christine traces her initial interest in art to a family trip to Crete, when her parents took her, at age 12, to the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion.  The museum had not yet been renovated, yet Christine remembers being fascinated by a large old building with hundreds of pots that occupied all available space: “I just remember being overwhelmed by how beautiful they were.”

After her initial excitement was awakened in the museum of Iraklion, she witnessed, during a school trip to the Greek island of Sifnos, a local potter as he was creating pottery. As Christine recalls “All my friends wanted to go to the beach, but I didn’t really want to get sunburned, so I went to the coolest, darkest place I could find, and there was a potter making pots in the tiny little hamlet called Faros, it’s a little village right on the sea, and I was mesmerized.”

“I’d never seen anybody throw clay on the wheel, and he had a kick wheel, and he used to go with his donkey to the top of the mountain to collect his clay. He was such a kind man, Mr. Vasilis.  At 12 o’clock every day, he’d take a break and he said ‘you can come and sit at my wheel.’ So I did, and I thought, ‘This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done!’”

After completing high school, Christine returned to Sifnos to study pottery.  “That’s when I realized, this is what I really want to do.”  She sought an in-depth university degree program in ceramics and finally discovered the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she subsequently earned a B.A. degree in ceramics. 

As a ceramics teacher at the American Farm School, Christine notes, “It’s very important to give these kids an outlet that uses, what my father called your head, your hands and your heart. It’s really important that they’re all working together on the same level, and that’s what pottery does.”

“The first time you sit at the wheel, and your hands get dirty, and your mind just relaxes, you go into this Zen mode of being, and that’s what working with clay does for you.”

Although Christine uses an electric kiln in her studio at the American Farm School, she does most of her work at home, where she uses a pit fire to fire her pottery.  An alternative firing method used by contemporary potters, the pit fire was the only method of firing available to Ancient Greeks.  “A pit fire, you just dig a pit in your back yard and throw some pots in it and light fire on top. It’s not something you can easily do in the middle of a city.”

This alternative firing practice leads to a singular piece of pottery, but the artist has to know, through years of experimentation, how the fire will work.  As Christine says, “What I like about the pit fire is that it gives a really unique result, it’s one-of-a-kind pieces that come out, not something I can easily do again, it’s completely unpredictable.”

For those interested in contemporary ceramic art, a sample of Christine’s work will be displayed in Athens, May 17-25, 2024, at the Modern Ceramics Study Center, Athens / Centre for the Study of Modern Pottery.  Christine will also deliver a presentation on her work in Athens, on May 22, 2024, at British School of Archaeology, Kolonaki.  RSVP for this event (outside link).

To create the finish and design on the lower half of these pots, Christine used an alternative firing technique with horse hair: after removing the pots from the fire, she placed horse hairs on the surface of the pot, which carmelized to produce the unique set of wavy black designs on the pots.

The black and orange color scheme of this pot reflects Christine’s interest in Ancient Greek pottery, and was achieved through a process known as dulce raku: after she removed the pot from the fire, she placed it in a combustible material in a contained space. The burnt orange color is the result of this process.

This pot, inspired by the beauty of the female form, has a shiny surface which Christine created through the process of burnishing: after the pot was fired and cooled, she polished it for several hours to close the pores.  This technique, adopted by Ancient Greeks and Native American artists, is used in lieu of applying glaze.

This pot was also created by means of dulce raku to produce the burnt orange color.  To create the design on the pot, Christine dipped a piece of lace into a red clay slip and imprinted the design on the clay.  She then fired the pot in a pit fire.

The design for this pitcher, inspired by a pitcher in the Museum of Santorini, reflects Christine’s admiration for the female form. Unlike most of her ceramic works, this piece was fired in an electric kiln to achieve its precision and finish.

This pot was fired by alternative firing, and also uses the dulce raku process to produce the burnt orange color.  The handle is made of driftwood, which Christine uses frequently in her pottery, along with olive branches and other natural materials.

Christine’s Athens exhibition, May 17-25, 2024, will display these and many other specimens of her work.