We had the good fortune of connecting with Pilar Swanson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Pilar, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Balance is difficult for me to define currently. This is partially due to being a full-time teacher, mom, wife, small business owner, and community member of the various organizations that I am affiliated with. I’ll be honest, I am still trying to figure out what is ‘balance.’ This last year has been very tough since I am being asked to teach during a pandemic when mental and social health is taking precedence over academic performance.
My balance has changed over time by being mindful of how much time I am not dedicating to my family and husband. My husband has been my decision to really push my ceramic business; however, the balance there is making sure that he is also getting adequate time with his wife and my son is getting adequate time with his mother.
My work-life balance is hard to define because I am trying to figure out what takes priority. At the end of the day, when I am done teaching, if I am able to work on my personal ceramic projects for two hours, so be it. I find that I am more motivated and inspired to crank out ceramic work.
I am constantly wondering and thinking if I need to shift my priorities but put more emphasis on the things that really matter to me right now.
Work-Life balance is hard for me to define as I previously said. Maybe come back and ask me in a year or two?
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My ceramic artwork is inspired by some of the iconic scenery within the Pacific Northwest. Being a hiker and backpacker I fell in love with the mountainous scenery surrounding the Three Sisters Mountains, Deschutes National Forest, and the Mt. Hood National Forest. Having backpacked through some of these ranges, have further propelled me into illustrating these scenes into my ceramic work. Among the mountainous scenery are Oregon’s iconic Douglas Fire trees. These trees are so iconic to this area, they alone are my visual signature on my ceramic vessel forms.
I have always held an interest in etymology, the study of word history, and it only seemed elegant when I began naming ceramic series that are related to Latin and Greek word roots. My work uses visual imagery, in the form of contour line and color, to invoke emotional reactions in viewers. I am excited to show viewers the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with my ‘Respite’ series which combines iconic Oregon landscapes with comforting vessel forms. Respite is the Greek root word that means, ‘to turn around or look at.’ In a time where technology is often dominant and we are often rushed to produce, we do not give ourselves adequate time to stop and look at what is in front of us. Respite gives one permission to rest and is granted a moment of reprieve.
I am here today because I surround myself with people that are artists and small business owners. These people are also lead supporters in my work. It was easy to get started; however, it has been difficult to maintain. Starting a business has been easy, knowing how to maintain one is harder. My biggest challenge in that is knowing how to perform backend duties like website maintenance, bookkeeping, budgeting, etc. I, fortunately, have been able to gather more people around me, who are also like me and have learned how to budget, recordkeeping, and give myself a paycheck.
The lesson that I have learned is that it’s okay to give yourself a day to rest. That running until your tank is empty is not healthy and that you are missing out on other life experiences like being a part of my child’s life or spending time with my husband. That its okay to rest when you are exhausted.
I want people to understand that I started and developed my business because I am passionate about ceramics and teaching. That ceramics is more than making cool ceramic pieces, it’s about the community that is attached to this craft. My story honestly started when I bought myself a used pottery wheel and decided to entertain myself over my summer vacation. My entertainment turned into a passion, which later turned into a business. I wanted my enthusiasm for this craft to become accessible for everyone.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in the heart of wine and beer country within the state of Oregon. Many people will want to go to the city of Portland to explore but I will direct them to the quieter and calmer parts of my area.
Depending on their level of interest, I would take them to my favorite winery Varnum Vineyards located just outside of Amity, OR. There Cyler and Tara Varnum will regale visitors with their fantastic wines, humor you with dad jokes and riesling from Cyler, and then offer you a chance to corn hole off their lawn. Their tasting room holds a beautiful view of Mt. Hood while the Catalyst Vineyard lies quietly below the tasting room seated area. If wine is not their forte, then I would take them to Barley & Vine which is in Newberg, OR. Here Brad and Karl will entertain you with good local beer and wine while offering up board games or tempt you at playing Magic the Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons. As a resident Magic and Dungeons & Dragons player, I happily suggest you use the custom RPG table which is located in the back of Barley & Vine.
The beach is one hour away from Newberg, while in the opposite direction lies the Oregon Zoo. My town lies almost central to many key points of interest. Depending on if you want wine, spirits, food, music, or theater. I can easily point you to good local entertainment by many fellow local businesses.
The Broadway Rose Theater provides theater goes many opportunities to see the acting talents of young professionals. Their stage routinely puts on musicals, dramas, and comedies for all to see. Did I mention that Newberg has one of the few remaining drive-in theaters? Every spring, the 99W Drive In Theater, is the local hot spot for every local Newberg resident. If you see a backed-up line of cars along 99W, it’s possible they are waiting to be let into the drive-in theater.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The individuals that instantly come to my mind are my friends at East Creek Anagama. This is a community of ceramic artists that are passionate about fire and clay. These individuals are crazy enough to camp out in the middle of the woods, get barely six to seven hours of sleep at a time, and tenderly nurture an anagama kiln. It is these individuals that got me excited about ceramics and further pushed me into establishing my work and ceramic identity.