World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 101 - Patty Schilder

Patty schilder is a ceramist. During the Open Studios Jordaan in Amsterdam I walked along a studio at the Lijnbaansgracht, where I saw a group of people being introduced to the works of art on the wall. I just walked in. The matter of the artworks was not immediately apparent. Was it wood? Wat it ceramic? In any case, it was special.


A few weeks later I’m sitting at the table with Patty Schilder in her studio. She says that the shield shape of her works is inspired by diatoms. These are single-celled animals. Patty: “They consist of two halves, which fit together like a box and lid. One of these halves often has a slit, through which the diatom absorbs or seperates substances from its environment. They actually look like shields.”

“The shape I make is a combination of an organism and a shield. As a ceramist I always make a shape that I can paint afterwards. Thereafter, the clay is, of course, still baked. Clay is transformed into stone. We call this ceramic.”

Besides diatoms Patty is also inspired by manhole covers on the street. “I took pictures and made a collection of manhole covers around the world. Sometimes there’s sand around, shadows, cracks, or beautiful lines and this comes back into my sculptures.”

Patty wants to accentuate the bare skin, weathered surfaces, erosion with pure pigments. Weathering processes in which the influence of time and nature are visible. “Rock formations and stratification, diatoms and traces of flaking paint on doors and walls. Magnificent!”

In addition, she finds it fascinating that colors, shapes and symbols have a totally different meaning in different cultures. Symbols are culture bound and meanings are ambiguous. For example, the snake is in Africa a symbol of wisdom and here in the west totally different meanings are attributed to this animal.

“My wall objects do not appear immediately to be ceramics. People think ‘is it wood?’ ‘Or is it ceramic?’”


Much of her work arises organically. “I have an idea, based on images, impressions, memories. With that I’m going to work. It is rarely a detailed plan. Sometimes when it does not work or produce an exciting result, I’ll throw it away. 
Instead of plain water, I use for example ditch water with spawn it, or I’ll throw wood shavings at the artwork just before cooling. Then you get a different effect. I work a lot with reduction and oxidation. Over the years I have gained a lot of knowledge about what works and how it can work. On the go it can change. I consider this as one of the fun aspects of experimenting with the surface, the skin.”


In the nineties she went to West Africa, Mali. In the largely animist Dogon area there is also Christianity and Islam. It exists next to each other. “I was touched by the culture. There’s a woman’s world, and a man’s world. The hearty laughter they have in common. I saw tattoos, paintings and initiations and so much more.”

She is intrigued by skin. “At notches of a black skin, there is a thickening of the skin, the so-called ‘crocodile skin’. This is different in white skin. There ain’t that bulge. A skin with less pigment gets scabs who leave white scars. Tattoos and notches have many meanings. Such as ‘I belong to this tribe or group’, but a tattoo can also be a symbol of beauty, wealth, status, respect, courage or strength. I still get inspiration from it, after all these years!”

West Africa

Patty herself has Indonesian-African roots. “My grandfather (paternal) comes from West Africa. In the nineteenth century the Dutch had recruited a total of about 3500 Africans to work in the Dutch East Indies. So my grandfather. Ineke van Kessel has described this relatively unknown small piece of Dutch history in her book ‘Belanda Hitam’ (Black Dutchmen). The Tropenmuseum has even dedicated an exhibition to this. In the book ‘The black with the white heart’ of Arthur Japin this history is told by means of two boys, Kwame and Kwasi, one of which goes through the Netherlands to Indonesia.”

Do, do, do

Patty is a self-taught painter. In 1992 she enrolled as a ceramist at the Chamber of Commerce. She had made a turntable with someone because she wanted to do pottery. On her attic in Amsterdam. She still was a nurse at the time, she cared for people with mental and physical disabilities. “I was crazy of pottery, the optimum for me was firing outside.” At some point, she bought a roller and then a slab roller, and she started to work differently. 

“It was pure pleasure. Magic! There was no internet then and few colleagues to whom I could ask anything. Much failed, but I continued like possessed. It was Do, Do, Do. I quit the job in order to immerse myself in ceramics. To remain financially independent, I worked three nights a week at an Indonesian restaurant.”

She saw an announcement in a magazine: three galleries were looking for young ceramists, just graduated from different academies to exhibit new work. “I sent pictures of my work and thought that I should regard it as a kind of test. There were so many registrations that only one in three could pass. Of the more than 35 candidates I proved to be the only self-taught one that was selected.”

A new phase began. Other exhibitions followed, at home and abroad. In ‘98/’99 Patty started full-time with ceramics. Meanwhile, we are many years further and at the moment she gives courses and workshops in the studio on Lijnbaansgracht and raku workshops on an organic farm in Zunderdorp.

Literary salon

“I’m happy with what I do,”she says. “I feel a blessed person. I bring things together that I wanted to bring together. Which includes also literature.” Monthly the Literary Salon Schilder & Schimmelpennink is organized in collaboration with several friends. Writers and poets, not the least, are being interviewed. There is room for 65 visitors. The management consists of Ton Schimmelpennink, bookstore owner, his wife Marianne Aaldering and Ger Ackermans, the friend of Patty whom we know among other things from the radio program In de Rooie Haan and Patty herself.   

The salon is always on a Sunday afternoon and lasts three hours. The first hour an author is interviewed, then there is a one hour break in which there are drinks and food, books can be signed. And it continues with an interview with another writer, often a poet. The atmosphre is jovial, with musical accompaniment at the beginning, during the break and at the end. “Ger is ringmaster, he also cares for the drinks and together we think about which dishes we make for the buffet.”

Images: Patty Schilder, 2) Clouds, 3) Eureka, 4) Mist, 5) Red Night, 6) No title, 7) Native soil, 8) Domicle of female and male, 9) triptych sizes, 10) Guardian angel, 11) 11) Weathered I, 12) Weathered II, 13) Mural, 14) Sediment sizes









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