DECATUR — Most of the art that married Oreana couple Xin “Water” Zhao and Alan Waterman create together has a greater purpose than sitting pretty on a shelf.
Carefully crafted bowls, cups and plates, their functional ceramic pieces reflect their distaste for waste and philosophy to mind one's carbon footprint.
Both were drawn to the art form because of its permanence and practical application.
“They can serve people for centuries,” she said. “It's logical for us to use better quality items while we live in a wasteful society.”
Where many people do not see the ripple from casually tossing out paper plates and other disposable dishware, Zhao pictures mountainous landfills and garbage floating in the ocean. For this reason, she carries some pieces with her in case she should need them.
“Some people may not see it as convenient, but it is a small price to pay for a better place,” she added.
In addition to being more environmentally conscious, Waterman said the pieces help bring a unique aesthetic that improves one's quality of life.
“The world has enough stuff, and we lose meaning with mass production,” he said. “There's no soul to mass produced pieces.”
The couple have been married for 11 years and met in Zhuhai, China, while Waterman was training to teach English. They are both graduates of Richland Community College, and Zhao is currently enrolled in Millikin University's studio art program.
Each studied the art form under Shirley Kramer, ceramics instructor at Richland. Kramer, who has 40 years of experience with ceramics, described their pieces as homey and intimate.
“With ceramics and pottery, you touch and mold the work with your hands, giving a direct connection with the artist that gets translated into the work,” she said. “Your tea cup or coffee cup can be a small object of art you get to enjoy on a daily basis, making the mundane more pleasant.”
Though the couple prefers to make functional pieces of art, they have had decorative works on display locally, including at the David Erlanson Art Gallery at Richland and Milikin's Blue Connection.
As a part of the art of entrepreneurship course Zhao is taking, their work is available for purchase at BC Studios.
Putting an artistic twist on a functional potter's item, both had “peeps” displayed at Richland in February. A peep is a plug for a kiln, and in October, the two attended a ceramics workshop at the college that featured artist David Gamble, who has made hundreds of decorative peeps.
Carving her peeps similar to a diorama, Zhao created an old-fashioned pizzeria and a pottery studio.
“It's a creative way of making an object that is functional into an art piece,” gallery facilitator Jamie Rutherford said. “Water and Alan have definitely showed the level of variety that is possible.”
Waterman also had two pieces, one a goat's head and the other a pharaoh’s.
When collaborating on art projects, Waterman will build and mold the piece and Zhao will do the more decorative features.
“We tend to work off of each others strengths,” he said.
The couple also have another artist contributing to their work, their 10-year-old son Zhao Waterman. He began making pinch pots at age 7 and has expanded to making toy soldiers, horses and cowboys. He even crafted a castle, which received recognition while on display at the Madden Arts Center.
One of their family collaborations was “The Road to Nowhere,” which features a tall tower with an endless winding road, which is meant to represent society's over-dependence on fossil fuels.
“The key to working with clay is to have a reason for everything you are doing, or else it will fight with you,” Zhao said. “The trick is to make what you think and what you dream into something real.”