Serenity is in woefully short supply these days. Between the talking heads barking from our boob tubes and the constant stream of information and misinformation in our news feeds, the quest for peace and quiet can sometimes be more stressful than the onslaught we’re trying so desperately to escape. The collective need for safe, tranquil spaces is why places like Shade Ceramics and Shutter Photography (Shade & Shutter for short), newly opened at 1102 White St., are necessary now more than ever.
Shade & Shutter highlights locally crafted ceramics by Mark Klammer and vibrant nature photography by Sarah Carleton. The gallery itself is a serene showroom as well as a working ceramics studio where Mark creates his pieces before your eyes — a space that is simultaneously sleek and modern yet still somehow rustic and welcoming. And to toast the new addition to the White Street arts corridor, Mark and Sarah will host a grand opening reception on Friday, Feb. 1, from 5 to 8 p.m at the gallery. Wine will be served and Sarah has created party favors that are works of art befitting the beauty of the new space.
Mark started working in ceramics in the 1990s in Ithaca, N.Y. After meeting Sarah 14 years ago, he moved to Hammondsport, N.Y., started Mark Klammer Pottery and became a Roycroft artisan. “I started doing ceramics in the mid-90s and it was really just a hobby,” Mark recounts. “I was a social worker at the time, but I fell in love with pottery right away. I knew it was something I wanted to do professionally, it just took a long time to get there. A change that big takes time! And then along came Sarah — we wanted to be together, so I moved from Ithaca to Hammondsport. The Finger Lakes is a bustling tourist area, so I took the move as an opportunity to begin a real career selling my pottery.”
Much like Mark, Sarah has loved and practiced photography for decades. Since retiring from the corporate world in 2014, Sarah has focused on creating a body of work featuring the quiet beauty of Key West, especially the natural stillness within Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The large-format photographs are printed on aluminum, giving them a depth and radiance, as well as a modern look.
“I’ve been doing photography as a hobby since I was just out of college,” Sarah begins. “I mostly started doing film photography and had a great time doing that, but as life went on I got busy and my art dropped by the wayside. When I retired about five years ago, I started getting into it more and practicing more. And since we’ve moved to Key West, I spend at least half my mornings at Ft. Zach taking photos. It’s peaceful and quiet, yet there’s almost always something to see.”
Although their presence in Key West seems natural, Mark and Sarah’s first visit to the island was somewhat of a random decision. “At the time, we hadn’t been on vacation in five years,” Mark explains. “I told Sarah I wanted to go on a trip that would really change my life — I had envisioned a voyage across Europe or something really grand, but we didn’t want to leave the country. Sarah brought up Key West because it’s warm and it’s about as far south as you can get without leaving the U.S. We were living in this tiny little hamlet and it was winter and it was cold and during the off-season there’s just nothing — everything shuts down. We had no community and about four friends. So during that trip, we drank the Key West Kool-Aid. As soon as we got home, we booked our next trip back and we kept coming back. Prior to our third year vacationing down here, we decided to look for a place to buy. When you say things out loud the universe provides; we came down prepared to purchase a house and we found one right away.”
Since then, their appreciation for the wonders of the island has only grown. “There’s a freedom here that’s really nice,” Sarah says. “I love being able to sit on our porch and see people I know walking by. There is so much diversity here and everybody is so friendly. Pretty soon you have dozens of friends and everyone is different and there are all these ideas floating around.”
Mark enthusiastically agrees. “We appreciate Key West because, to thrive here, you have to like diversity. You have to try new things and be willing to go out on a limb and if you’re willing to do those things and if you have something to offer to the island, it will embrace you and that’s what happened. And that welcoming environment really encouraged us to follow our dreams and open Shade & Shutter.”
Aside from providing a tranquil respite from the quotidian bustle, Shade & Shutter is also subtly trying to nudge people out of their everyday, inside-the-box thinking. “I think what we offer at Shade & Shutter is a different ways of looking at things,” Sarah relates. “For example, when people look at my photographs, they usually say, ‘I think that’s Ft. Zach, but this image is different from the way I see it.’ And Mark is focused on creating modern and functional ceramics, which is different from other potters who offer pieces that are purely decorative. I think Mark’s and my work go together well. We adhere to similar color palettes and I try to make my photos about one thing — something really simple. And Mark’s designs are always really clean and simple as well.”
“I like to think of my style as modern farmhouse rustic chic,” Mark adds. “When I design things, I think about different tastes and decors. I want to appeal to as many aesthetics as I can — I’m really looking to find the universality in it all. I love clean lines and simple pieces; you won’t see a lot of cha-cha on my pots. The shapes are modern, but the finish is rustic. I want people to say, ‘I love this! What can I use it for?’ In that way, I like to think a lot of my pieces are multi-functional; I rarely make decorative objects. For example, if I make something that looks like a cup, I want people to see that they can drink from it, but I also want them to see that they can eat out of it, put pencils in it or store loose change in it. I want people to be aware of the multifunctionality of a lot of what I make. My goal is to challenge people a little bit to broaden their thoughts about what a cup is and what it can be.”
Mark and Sarah also embrace their productive creativity as a means to break free from the constant external stimuli. “I like photography because it allows me to go out and focus on something,” Sarah explains. “When you’re out, there’s all this stuff that’s bombarding you, especially in town. But when I go to the park, there’s less of that. Photography enables you to frame something — you get this little part of the world that you can control because you can frame it and look at it from a certain viewpoint. With every scene, I can isolate a little part that I really like. Then I feel like my vision has created that personal imprint on whatever it is that I’m photographing.”
“For me it’s the flow,” Mark says. “When I’m focusing on something, I’m relaxed. Time just flies and I’m at peace. There’s something both magical and immediate about making something out of clay, especially at the wheel. Every time you touch the clay, it changes. I’m always amazed to this day when I take something off the wheel and I really love it — sometimes I can’t believe I did that. I think what drives me to do this is to make stuff that works — functional pieces that you can use in your life on a daily basis but that are also beautiful to look at. I’ve made some losers in my life, but you have to! The losers are invaluable learning experiences.”
These days Mark and Sarah are happily busy turning Shade & Shutter into a haven for patrons looking for unique, handmade gifts, but they have predictably lofty dreams for the future. Eventually, Sarah plans to turn her photographs into a book. And Mark aims to continue his trend of marrying the practical and functional with the beautiful. “Ideally, I’d like to outfit my studio for dinnerware and make it more efficiently so I can supply restaurants,” Mark describes. “My vision a long time ago was to have a shop like this and work in the back and just have piles of dinnerware and stacks all over the place so people can go through it and mix and match what they like. I want to have everything and have a lot of it.”
The creative atmosphere of Key West has certainly allowed the couple to tap into the collective wellspring of inspiration. And though the island abounds with art galleries featuring everything from abstract oil paintings to ceramics to gigantic metal sculptures, Mark and Sarah embrace the challenge of setting themselves apart. “I think it’s great to have more art,” Sarah says. “The more art the better! I just want to belong with the rest of the artists here.”
“Art is one of the few things where more is definitely better,” Mark concurs.
“Like love!” Sarah interjects, laughing.
“Exactly!” Mark agrees. “ And the more artists there are, the more we make each other better and the more we strive to make ourselves better.”
You can visit Mark and Sarah at Shade & Shutter at 1102 White St. in Key West. For more information, contact Sarah Carleton at 607-794-8006, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. ¦