The only child of Nigerian parents, Atoe grew up in the Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C. As a teenager, she read everything she could about music and eventually dove into D.C.’s punk scene. Atoe sang and played bass and violin for bands such as Firebrand, New Bloods, Heat Rash and Negation, and in 2006, she started a fanzine called Shotgun Seamstress, a publication “by and for Black Punks.”
In her mid-30s, Atoe took a pottery class while living in Louisiana and became hooked on the art form. She says she enjoyed developing her craft and building skills over time, a break from the chaotic punk scene. But her DIY roots stayed with her. “Being in punk gave me a mentality that prioritized expression over technical ability and made me feel OK with being a beginner,” she says.
That influence comes through in her teaching style, as well. She currently leads classes in intermediate wheel-throwing at Sarasota Clay Company, an inviting 20-year-old institution in a massive industrial building with high ceilings and large doors. On one recent afternoon, a student asked her for precise instructions on how long to let a bowl sit before it would be firm enough to carve the design, but Atoe declined to offer a conclusive answer. “You just got to feel it,” she told the student.
In Atoe’s own work, she looks back to ancient forms, as well as universal shapes, like pour pots. Red clay attracted her from the start. The color breaks through pale glazes, highlighting geometric shapes made of simple carved lines, curves or slip dots. The red color also pushes against the pale cream and turquoise just enough to give the work a look of patina, like an aged artifact discovered in pristine condition.
“That’s why pottery is amazing,” Atoe says. “It puts you back in touch. We’re supposed to be friends with nature.” Long before humans began farming, we were making pots; the oldest known vessel dates back nearly 20,000 years. “We’re supposed to be interacting with the earth in this way,” she says.
To see more of Atoe’s work, visit potterybyosa.com. An archive of Atoe’s Shotgun Seamstress will be released by Soft Skull Press this fall.