Breaking the Mold

From an early age, Neeley Koester loved art. “As a kid, I was always doodling on homework, placemats, and once on my aunt’s living room wall. I also worked with the kind of clay you could bake in the oven,” says Koester, a native of St. Wendel, Ind. But it wasn’t until she began attending North Posey High School that Koester was introduced to a potter’s wheel, which quickly became her most prized tool. Her love for ceramics and pottery continued through college at the University of Evansville where she majored in communications. Realizing she could no longer be away from a studio, she enrolled in a ceramics class. “During that time, I focused a lot of energy on my skill at the wheel,” Koester says. “Then one day, my professor said, ‘Okay, you can throw; now do something interesting with it.’”

Proficient on the wheel, Koester’s style lies between functional pottery and sculpture. She describes her work as having a “girlish or sweet touch” and explains, “Some art looks intimidating. I really don’t want people to feel that when they look at my work.” She rarely creates collections of work because she wants each piece of pottery or sculpture to be unique. “I think that sets me apart from other artists, and it means whoever has a piece of mine will have a very original piece of art,” adds Koester.

Earlier this year, Koester organized a ceramic auction at the Rapp-Owen Granary in New Harmony, Ind., to benefit the Evansville Psychiatric Children’s Center. “I really wanted to do something in college that I would look back on and be proud of myself for, and after learning about the center through taking an art therapy course and going there on a field trip, I fell in love with the work they do there,” says Koester. The auction was attended by teachers, family, friends, and strangers; Koester was able to get pieces donated from four professional artists — including UE professor Mark Schoenbaum, and former professor of art at the University of Southern Indiana Lenny Dowhie — making the event a huge success. “We raised $8,500 for the EPCC, and I still occasionally receive emails from them thanking me. It was a wonderful experience.”

In May, Koester graduated from the University of Evansville and moved to Nashville, Tenn., where she is a student at The Clay Lady Studio. “I have always loved Nashville. It’s the perfect combination of city life and the Midwest,” says Koester. While she doesn’t plan on having large gallery shows, her primary goal is to work with interior designers, creating custom work or selling her designs to companies such as Anthropologie, the popular retailer of women’s apparel and home fashions, and Restoration Hardware, a retailer of classic American home furnishings and décor. “To me, that would be more thrilling than seeing my pieces in a show,” she says.

For more information on Neeley Koester’s designs, contact her at

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