Unplanned effects: Catherine Schmid-Maybach

Sometimes she shoots photos while driving. Sometimes she lets clay crack and “do what it does.” Catherine Schmid-Maybach is not exaggerating when she says she prefers not to be in control of every aspect of her work.

Schmid-Maybach is a ceramic sculptor who makes fragment-like wall plaques that she transfers photos onto. She has been working on the plaques for about five years. She’s also made small chairs and ceramic figures dressed in images.

Schmid-Maybach uses layers of laser transfer, ceramic glaze, clay and decals to transfer images to the plaques. This technique takes multiple firings and lots of patience.

“It is a lot of work,” she said.

Schmid-Maybach uses distressed slabs with rough edges and cracked areas.

“I work with what happens in the ceramic process, adapting rather than imposing my will on what comes out of each firing,” she said.

She said there’s a learning curve required to master this combination of transfer techniques.

“It is just kind of experimenting because, a lot of it, you just kind of figure out,” she said. “Even if someone shows you a technique, you have to figure out how it works for you. I use a litho transfer at first and then use different kinds of decals.”

For years, Schmid-Maybach used images from newspapers, maps and other sources, until her sister—a photojournalist and art photographer—pointed out that she did not own the photos. Schmid-Maybach investigated the usage rights for photos and came across a challenge. She met with a lawyer who told her she could use the photos, but in a different way than the original user.

“You can’t just say, ’I like it,’ paint it blue and make it bigger,” she said. From then on she decided to take her own photos.

“I’ve lived different places, and I kind of mash them up, all the different countries and different places,” she said.

On one plaque that Schmid-Maybach has hanging in her home, she transferred a photo of the highest mountain in Germany, where her parents live, a photo of a gate in the nearby valley, a wall from southern Spain and a photo from Highway 395 in Nevada.

How she shoots depends on where she is and what she’s doing. In Reno, she takes lots of photos of clouds and roads. When she shoots in San Francisco, her hometown, she shoots in black and white. Shooting from her car makes for some really cool surprises.

Schmid-Maybach received her BFA from California College of the Arts in Oakland. She later received her MFA from San Francisco State University. She has had artist residencies in India, Cuba, Hungary and Spain. These days, she makes her artwork at Wedge Ceramics Studio and at her home in Reno.

Schmid-Maybach has an exhibition up now at Sierra Arts, and when that’s over, she plans to sculpt a bench for the cemetery in Tuscarora.

After that, she intends to go back to creating figures, rather than flat plaques and chairs. With the plaques, she puts photos of people and landscapes on the surfaces; for her next project, she’ll put the landscapes back onto the people.

“I think I am done with the flat surfaces,” she said.


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