All things start somewhere. The first stroke of a paintbrush, first photograph, first painting, first sculpture, etc. Nelfa started her artistic career as an illustrator, architectural draftsman, cartographer, graphic designer and printmaker. All these different practices influence her works in clay.
Nelfa Querubin-Tompkins started forming clay between her hands in 1973 in Miag-ao, Ilolilo City, Philippines. A daughter of a fisherman and a housewife, poverty did not stop her from pursuing making pottery. At the age of thirty three years old, her curiosity for making pottery, became her life’s passion, which continues to support her until today. Pottery supported her, not only financially and mentally, but above all, spiritually.
Forty years later, her collected Ceramic Art pieces by her collectors from around the city, are shown at the Ayala Museum in Makati City. “Terrain”: A retrospective show in Ceramics by Nelfa Querubin-Tompkins from 1973-2012. A must-see show!
It is an honor to be asked by a celebrated Ceramicist, to pick her up from the University Hotel in U.P. Diliman, Quezon City. She was wearing a black pair of pants, black inner shirt, and a very colorful, long-sleeve, chiffon top. The colors pink and orange are popping from the black shirt underneath. With her salt and pepper hair, she carries herself with confidence, pride, and peacefulness in her eyes.
She is strong. She is meek. She is quiet. She is loud. She is simple. She is complex. She is a little girl with a child-like faith. She is an old lady with a deep source of wisdom which comes from her spirituality. She is an inspiration. All these and more, you will see in her works with clay, and writings in her books.
I escorted Nelfa into the hall which shows all her works. White and red pedestals with her Ceramics, were all waiting for people, to see them one by one. Her handmade pieces draw the crowd to come close.
The first set of pieces that caught my attention were these teapots for two. Nelfa plays a lot with texture. Influenced by her surroundings, she marks her clay with organic and non-organic materials that she finds from the ground, by the beach, through her travels, etc. All teapots were made with the slab-making technique.
Nelfa currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Michael Tompkins. She is surrounded by rocky mountains, which highly influence her works here. Michael gave Nelfa, a special kind of knife, to apply these texture to her clay. Her environment plays a big role in her creative process. Her pieces are not just glazed pots. Her works are inspired by what she sees around her. She incorporates form and texture to her Pottery.
When Nelfa is asked about her techniques in making Pottery, she answers them generously. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is held back. Ideas are meant to be shared. Application will never be the same. This is the beauty of working with handmade pottery. No two pieces are ever alike.
Some of the students of Clay Ave have witnessed the presence of a great Filipina clay artist. There were so many questions about her work, and Nelfa answered all of them gracefully and generously. We are all inspired to go back to the pottery studio and get our own hands dirty with clay! After the students have seen her works, most of the students didn’t work with the potter’s wheel for weeks. Making pots is not limited with the wheel alone. There are thousands of projects that can be created with slab making. What inspires you? Show it with clay! And I say this for myself too : )
To be in one place with fellow potters and pillars in Philippine Pottery is unexplainable through words. These are some of the people who influence us today in the world of Ceramics. They are the reason why we continue to play with clay today. Jon, Tessy, and Nelfa, have gone through most of the struggles and success, a Potter goes through in his/her career as a lover of clay and fire. We are all transformed.
Wherever we are today, whether we are in Manila or in the provinces in The Philippines, working with terra cotta, bone china, or stoneware clay, we continue to share and spread the love for Pottery. It is a good way to express one’s self. Fired clay lasts for a lifetime. We are all hooked.
Witnessing a retrospective show in Ceramics, has confirmed my joys and fears as a Potter. Seeing the pieces of Nelfa, when she was starting as a Potter, shows her honesty and boldness with what she created from 1973-2012. She didn’t think whether people will like her work or not. She went right ahead in her studio, picked up her tools, slapped, poked, sliced, glazed clay, and fired her pots with strength, weakness, joy, sadness, and a fired-up passion for transforming clay.