Between snuggling with their small Chihuahua and large cat, browsing the racks at vintage shops, and painting every inch of their new house, Sara Victorio runs a ceramics business called Hotel Ceramics from a small studio in Portland, Oregon. As a company of one (besides a bookkeeper), Victorio handles both the artistic aspects and business practices on their own, including shipping pieces to a range of customers, from 18-year-old pottery fanatics to 80-year-old patrons in search of timeless design.
"Timeless" is a big word for the potter. Despite their work being both colorful and playful, they aim to steer away from trends — an impressive feat considering they have no formal training in the arts. After moving to Portland from the Bay Area, Victorio attended Portland State University, where they studied social science with a focus on identities (race, sex, ethnicity, and religion) in an American context.
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"That was all really fun, but I knew going through my studies that I didn't want to pursue any of that," Victorio tells Hunker. "It was really important to my family that I get a bachelor's degree, [and] I had such a fulfilling time in college. I think knowing that I wasn't really going to pursue [my degree] in a professional way let me feel the freedom to study whatever I wanted."
Victorio's academics were theory heavy, so they were seeking a creative outlet. They were artistic as a young child and this is a part of themself they wanted to continue exploring. So, the potter began a six-week course at a community studio, where they learned to throw on the wheel. Once the course was complete, Victorio attended open studio hours as much as possible, and after graduating college in 2020, they joined a second studio that allowed for 24-hour access. The artist then dabbled in the food service industry while working for another potter part time, all before creating what we now know as Hotel Ceramics.
Victorio draws inspiration from shapes seen in architecture, metal, or glass. They also spend a lot of time flipping through folk art books, particularly those that focus on Filipino art as an ode to their own personal background.
"My family is from the Philippines, so I've been reaching out to my mom for help," says Victorio. "She has a lot of books about Filipino art. I think Portland specifically is a very white city. I don't get to see my culture represented very often, especially in terms of art shows. There's not a very large population of Filipinos in Portland, especially as opposed to the Bay Area, where there's a huge community, and Seattle. So, we're kind of in this limbo space in Portland. I'm trying to represent that with my work. It's really important to me."
Filipino art covers a wide range of designs and mediums, but the potter is particularly drawn to scenes of agriculture and representations of daily life in the Philippines. They enjoy exploring tropical plants and Indigenous art, using items like woven baskets, textiles, and wooden vases as inspiration.
While most of Victorio's work is done on the typical electric wheel (and occasionally with their hands), they have recently taken to wood firing. Victorio travels to rural Oregon to a studio that specializes in atmospheric firing, the umbrella that wood firing falls underneath (referencing the chemicals that are present in the kiln's atmosphere), with their studiomate Kendall Ozmun. The two just worked with the traditional Japanese anagama kiln, in which the process of firing a piece could take around four weeks, as opposed to a traditional electric kiln that takes 24 hours. The potter finds the intimacy with the fire to be truly mind-blowing.
"I think a huge draw to wood firing is that you don't really have a lot of control [over] how the surfaces come out," explains Victorio. "It all depends on the fire. I'm just so excited to let go of that control. I think it's really inherent to ceramics. There are things you can control, but you're dealing with such intense elements of the earth — like fire, water, clay — and a ton of chemistry that I don't fully understand and probably will never fully understand. It's going to be a really amazing step in my process and practice."
As for what's next, Victorio hopes to continue to explore wood firing and work on projects that are meaningful. They are in the preliminary stages of working with a Philadelphia-based shop called Yowie that is allowing the potter to create freely, something that's refreshing for them since most shop owners are searching for a very specific design.
"That's really what I'm looking for. I do wholesale, but what really nourishes me is that collaborative aspect, like doing special projects for people," says Victorio. "It definitely feeds my problem-solving brain to work with another person to create a product that I wouldn't come up with alone."