Julie Anderson (left) and student Kayt Gary (right) unload the reduction kiln during a kiln opening party at Warehome Studios, 2017. Photo by Megan Westercamp.To a ceramist, the term “mud season” sounds like a dream. In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the locals use this term to describe the periods between winter and summer outdoor activities. As the snowstorms come and go in the spring and autumn, the hiking and biking trails are sloppy wet or dotted with patches of impassable snow.  For skiers, bikers, and tourists, this is the time to leave town and head for the dry, sunny desert.  With fewer distractions outdoors, mud season is the time to work in the clay studio.

Steamboat is a community of friendly mountain folk with a passion for outdoor sports and home to the largest number of winter Olympic athletes in the country. It is a place where waiting tables at night is a dream job, leaving one plenty of time to “shred the gnar” on the ski hill during a big powder day. I paid my bills by waiting tables and working in a ceramics production studio for more than six years, tallying up nearly a hundred days on skis year after year.  In summer, I careened down winding mountain bike trails with my hands gripped to the handlebars like my life depended on it. Each night, I would show up at work half-exhausted and sometimes sporting a new bandage, evidence of the day’s adventures.  Several times each night, the tourists dining at my tables would ask, “What brought you to Steamboat?” Most people were quite surprised to hear me say ceramics.

As an undergraduate student at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, forest ecology was my focus; counting and identifying tiny plants on the forest floor was my specialty.  I was fascinated by the relationship of plants to their environment, particularly how the ecology changed based on the availability of water. Then, during my third year, I discovered ceramics. And like so many mud-lovers, I was instantly hooked. I spent every spare moment in the clay studio—a great escape from the intensity of my science classes. Fresh out of college with a degree in biology, I was determined to make my way to Colorado. I wanted to escape the flatlands of the Midwest and live an adventurous life in the mountains. A ceramics internship in Steamboat Springs was the perfect opportunity to head west.

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