Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Emily Free Wilson. In 1979, I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, then lived in Hawaii for five years and finished growing up in Roseburg, Oregon. I have lived here in Helena for 16 years! I am a full time ceramic artist running my pottery business Free Ceramics and studio art center. This journey has been much more enjoyable with my husband Matt of 13 years and our 10-year-old son, Clayton. Matt and I work together as self-employed entrepreneurs. Where we live and work is just under a mile from each other. We love our neighborhoods, the people here and the gorgeous environment we get to enjoy.
Emily, your pottery is beautiful. Tell us about your art story – how you found pottery and what creativity looks like for you.
I am a first-generation college graduate on both sides of my family. Just getting to college was a huge deal and I made it on a near full ride running scholarship. Once in college, I had to decide on a major. Luckily, I discovered my love for making and how the act of creating can help you in so many ways. This lead to an intense interest in art and trying as many materials as I could. Majoring in art was not a career path for me at the time, it was a way to get through college doing something I loved.
While discovering more about myself and art, I had a few ah-hah moments along the way. One involved being in a tough spot and hearing another art student share her own horrible life experience through a piece of art. I realized then that the work I made and put out into the world would focus on my best moments, not my worst ones. And my art would be happy and positive.
A few years later, after lots of making, drawing, and sculpting, I took my ideas and colorful little dots and painted them on a pot. It was such an incredible realization. I had found my voice in clay, drawing these happy designs on my porcelain pots. It took a while to work through a number of ideas and variations. I continue to make time and push myself in the studio. Sometimes more often than other times! I love working with clay. Whenever I veer off and work with other materials, it keeps pulling me back.
Your art studio, Free Ceramics, is also quite the community gathering place. I love all the events and classes you host for the Helena community. What inspired you to open Free Ceramics?
Brand new to the art world, I found more interest and success organizing shows and artists than making my own art. I saw an opportunity to use my skills as a people person and organizer for artists. That lead to my dream job as the Gallery Director at the Archie Bray Foundation.
Between Matt’s skills and my own, we felt we had more to offer our community than just making our pottery. Instead of making pots at home, we decided to create a space where people could gather, share, make and create. And all that makes all of our lives that much richer.
We had started our kids Clay Club art classes years before. And my love for organizing led to art shows and more interaction with local artists. All of this lent itself to us needing more space!
This old funeral home has an incredible vaulted ceiling. Matt and I could see the potential for it being used by the community. After working with the owners with an agreement to purchase and raising nearly $30,000 through the donations of locals to help with renovation costs, we had a building! We rent out the lower level to 9 artists and the great room and main floor for fundraisers, dances, meetings, graduations, parties, concerts and so many cool events.
After 10 years at the Bray, I shifted to running Free Ceramics full time in 2015. I work with Matt and a group of amazing people who work part time with me to help keep everything going. The great room is rented more often and the activity in the space is super fun and active. We have after school throwing taught by Ryan and summer art camps as well. It’s incredible!
What does your perfect day look like?
After 8 hours of sleep, I would start my morning with stretches, yoga, and maybe a run! The morning might involve French toast for Clayton before he’s off to school or breakfast at the No Sweat downtown. Walking to work. The morning would consist of throwing or decorating pots. Lunch magically brought to me mid-day. The afternoon would be more making and some administration work. (Often the morning is admin work, but I am trying to shift that.) Everyone working at Free Ceramics is giggling and being productive. The music playing is just right. Heading home with a walk and the day ends with a simple dinner ready to cook and a little bit of energy left to clean up the kitchen and play cards with Matt and Clayton.
Another perfect day would be out floating on a river. A hike. Catching some fish. Reading a book. Sitting around fire. Enjoying the stars and getting those 8 hours of sleep in a tent.
Speaking of music, when I visited your studio to take your photograph, you had some GREAT music playing. So tell us, what’s your favorite pottery throwing music?
80’s for sure! Right now I’m listening to Irish themed music. If I’m completely by myself, I’ll listen to my “Firework” Pandora station (popular dancing/radio hits music). I also love my “Muppets” themed station which includes music from my favorite cartoon movies and any song sung by Juliet Andrews (Sound of Music and Mary Poppins). And once summer is over I’ll start listening to Dean Martin and friends sing holiday music! It’s gotta have a good beat!
Besides pottery, what else can we find you doing?
Floating on a river, hiking, running, making sushi, playing games and reading.
One of my favorite questions to ask is about advice. If you could tell your 20-yr-old self a few things, what would you say?
Believe you are special. Ignore the guy who said you are average. Ignore the adults who thought you would not make it. Set aside the angst you feel about your bad or hard decisions and keep moving forward. You don’t have to be perfect or right or figure out some “life changing thing.” Just keep going.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee! With cream.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Introvert or extrovert?
Dress up or dress down?
Sunrise or sunset?
Detailed or abstract?
Classic or modern?
Old Fashioned Modern Classic Futurism
Podcast or magazine?
Salty or Sweet?
Here’s the big question about Montana… tell us why you love living here.
Montana is a place where we all get to be ourselves and enjoy the incredible outdoors. The people are down to earth, smart, fun and driven. Whether creating something, working hard or playing hard, Montanans make it happen! Montana is beautiful, harsh and soft, tough and forgiving. It is a place I can explore forever and continue to learn more about myself in the process.
What’s a lesson you are currently learning?
To not put so much negative pressure on myself. I can have expectations and be stubborn and tough, but not all of the time. I need to give myself room to work toward my goals without sacrificing the other parts of my life I enjoy.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I am most grateful for my son’s health and my husband’s amazing patience and kindness.