Artist, climber and outdoors enthusiast, Jaclyn Souza takes the wheel of Uzumati Ceramics.
Written by Jenn Thornton
“I’ve always been a creative dabbler,” says Jaclyn Souza, the artist and founder of Uzumati Ceramics, which she launched after just a few pottery lessons—only six months from the day she first touched clay. “The first time I tried to throw a piece on the potter’s wheel, I was completely taken back by how hard it actually was,” she confesses. The clay was rough, her hands un-calloused. But one night after a class, Souza walked away with, as she puts it, “raw skin and one very Wabi-Sabi vessel. I was proud.” In the four years since her foray into this new world, Souza has been learning and honing her craft.
In many respects Souza fits the American West mold. She is young, intrepid; ready (and clearly able) to take on the world, in her own way, on her own terms. The lady defines free. All this helps in another key area of her life: climbing. Souza scales mountains as well as she scales her business, which makes more sense than one might think. Building a brand is the entrepreneurial equivalent of facing a wall of granite with a breathtaking drop. No surprise here—Souza’s handled it like a pro.
That Souza picked Uzumati—the Miwok word for ‘bear,’ which is thought to be the origin of the name Yosemite—to tag her brand is in keeping with her love of nature. Yosemite, an iconic California playground of physical contradictions, is a primary influence. “Uzumati’s first-ever collection was inspired by Yosemite’s granite monoliths, alpine lakes, and iconic views,” she says. “My time spent on the trails and walls of Yosemite—from climbing in the valley to volunteering for trail maintenance—has shaped who I am and given me the self-confidence I needed to start my own business. From the collection’s signature textured clay that’s reminiscent of Yosemite’s glacier-carved granite to the invigorating candle scent that brings back memories of plunging into Tenaya Lake after a day of climbing, every piece is designed to be a connection to the place that gave me what I needed to bring Uzumati Ceramics to life.” In Souza’s hands, Uzumati Ceramics is now an emerging producer of small-batch stoneware—each piece is hand-thrown, hand-carved, hand-glazed. Collections are inspired by rugged sceneries throughout the West, from Yosemite and Joshua Tree to the High Desert.
One thinks of climbing as a high-stakes, high-adrenaline game, but the climbing community has taught Souza a simple way of life that she brings into the studio and draws on to create functional stoneware pieced with minimal colors and surface treatments. “I always incorporate a bit of exposed raw stoneware,” she says. “For me, this adds a tactile component to the ware—bringing the user closer to the place of inspiration.”
Souza considers herself an artist but, more broadly, a storyteller. Her own narrative is still being written, but here is what one knows: She is here to shape the conversation. “Through craft, we are able to understand different cultures around the world. Right now, my peers and I are telling the current story through our hands and on our platforms. We are listening, learning, donating, and making actionable changes.” As is her nature.
Photographs courtesy of Alex Souza, @a_souza_photo