Ceramic Art with Veronica Carrel
● By Melissa Mendonca
All Hail the Queen
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Eric Leslie
Red Bluff artist Veronica Carrel knows the value of a seemingly simple coffee mug. “It takes time to make a coffee cup because you have to build the cup and pull the handle,” she says. Everything has to dry very slowly over a course of days. There are glazes to be applied and firings to be done to complete the process.
The end result, though, is something she sees as important because it’s a vessel of comfort and perhaps nourishment. “It’s something that you can use every day,” she says. “I like making cups because it’s a really personal thing that you can give to someone or choose for yourself.” As an artist who values unique expression, none of her cups are ever the same, though lately she’s fond of bold contrasting colors of black, orange and green. “It’s handmade and it’s unique, just like the person drinking out of it,” she says of her work.
The 30-year-old daughter of a German mother and American father, Carrel opened her studio, Queen V Arts and Design, with a potters’ wheel given to her by former teacher Jack Pratt in January 2016. The studio is in an industrial area of Red Bluff not far from Salisbury High School, a place she credits with helping her through a rough adolescence and where Pratt was a teacher. “I first took ceramics when I was in high school,” she says. “It was a nice refuge.”
Later, at Shasta College, a class canceled from her original schedule led her to try out noted North State artist Paul Rideout’s ceramics class. “I was his apprentice until about six years ago,” she says, speaking about the popular instructor who she regards as “a really great teacher, a mentor, a father figure, an artist.”
It was Rideout who helped her embrace her identity as an artist. “I struggled in school a lot,” she says. “I was dyslexic but I didn't know it. I learned to read in middle school or high school.” She hid behind spell-check on the school computers and says, “I was in trouble a lot because I was skipping school because I didn’t want to be there.”
“Art was this salvation, but there wasn’t enough of it and I wasn’t taught how to be an artist,” she adds. When she met Rideout, he asked why she didn’t refer to herself as an artist. “I took his lead on that,” she says. “I’m an artist no matter what I do or where I go or what I try. It’s the way you think about things. You have to solve problems. And you have to have a special way of looking at things to solve those problems.”
In opening her studio, Carrel affirmed her childhood desire to follow a creative calling. Of the name, Queen V Arts and Designs, she says her husband, heavy metal musician Chuck Wills, gave it to her when he created an avatar for her to play video games with him. “It was a name that was given to me,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t just say, hey, I’m boss!” Wills has a music studio next door to Queen V, and his father, Phil, creates drag racing cars and motorcycles nearby. Of Phil, she says, “I want to collaborate with him because he knows how to weld.”
While Carrel enjoys creating mugs and other pieces on the potters’ wheel, she also loves hand building ceramic pieces. “I’m always trying to tell a story with my art,” she says. “There’s always a deeper meaning to what I do.” Two of her pieces, Open-Hearted Buddha and Heartless Man, are the result of her ruminations on humanity and society in general, she says. Sister piece, the Open-Hearted Buddha, is colorful with an open chest; it symbolizes “peace, prosperity, hope and calm.” By contrast, Heartless Man is monotone, with an empty chest cavity and displays “deep lacerations, scars, closed eyes and a questioning look on his face.” It was created at a time when Carrel was contemplating stories of world violence and strife.
These pieces were recently displayed, along with her mugs, at Downtown Ale House in Red Bluff. She’s enjoyed hearing reactions to them. “Sometimes you make something and you see one thing in it and others see something else. With these, everyone seems to get it.”
Carrel has recently started the Master of Arts in Counseling program at National University and has set her sights on becoming a licensed practitioner in clinical counseling. “I’ll continue being an advocate for the arts and arts therapy,” she says. Children, she says, “should be celebrated for thinking differently.” Whether at the studio or in a counseling center, Carrel will be doing her part.
Queen V Arts and Design • 1300 Vista Way, Red Bluff