Heather Bradley’s Innominate Series

After injuring her neck in an accident, Heather Bradley decided to reflect on rupture and healing in a new installation of ceramic sculptures titled innominate. We visited the artist’s Santa Fe studio to discuss her art and massage practices, both of which have helped her to recover—and create. Read the full interview below, and come see Bradley’s monumental innominate installation on a 30-foot stretch of wall at form & concept.

Heather Bradley Ceramics- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Spinal #3, stoneware, 12.5 x 5.5 x 5.5 in.

What does the title of your new series, innominate, mean? 

The series is innominate, which is a Latin word that means “unnamed.” It’s what they were calling the pelvic bone for a while, because it’s so mysterious. It was also what my massage school class chose to name itself.

It’s a special word for me in that it encompasses a lot of mystery and the unknown. I was having a really hard time titling the piece because it was such a wide range of subjects for me. I like the title innominate because it feels like it didn’t classify it too much.

You’re weaving together several personal stories in this series. Tell us about the different threads. 

One thing that always goes into my work is whatever my heart is going through, what’s really happening in my personal life. Personal stories always go into it, but I try to encrypt that somewhat. I want there to be a sense when you look at the work that this person has put her heart and soul into the work in some kind of intimate way, but I don’t want it to be totally revealing.

I made this work while I was in massage school, but also I was nursing a whiplash injury. It’s about healing and really feeling my body and my bones and my skin and my muscles. I was learning the insides of bodies and feeling that connection between my own experience of giving massage and healing from my whiplash injury.

Heather Bradley Ceramicist- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Arterial #12, stoneware, 4 x 4 x 4 in.

What drew you to massage school? 

I decided to go to massage school because I’ve always loved to work with my hands. I’ve also wanted other people to feel comfortable in their own skin. I wanted to be of service to people. It was a six-month program. A month in, I had a pretty serious car accident. I got rear ended and I found myself with whiplash, and in desperate need of massage. So during massage school I really felt how important it is for someone to heal.

When I first had my car accident I was told by my chiropractor and the neurologist that I really needed to stop clay work. I started seeing a chiropractor three times a week and massage therapist once or twice a week. The car accident changed the curve of my sine. I felt like I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about my spine or the vertabrae and how everything fits together.

How did the experience of injuring yourself and healing manifest in the innominate series?

I feel like the necks of my pots have always been pretty prominent. It’s kind of a signature thing. When I started working on the necks this time, there was a special sensitivity in my fingers that I didn’t have before.

The necks of the pots started reminding me of my own neck, and how when you’re working on someone’s neck you can really feel the individual vertebra. It’s really important for the therapist to have that sensitivity in their fingers because the neck is so delicate. It just felt so similar to me, to create the vertebral column in the clay after my own vertebral column had been adjusted.

Heather Bradley Ceramicist- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Handheld II, ceramic.

What are some other similarities that you’ve discovered between your art practice and massage?

In school we took a class called The Healing Power of Touch. It wasn’t so much about special techniques with your fingers. It was about the importance of going into a massage with the right mindset and intention for that person and yourself. You have to go in with clean energy. 

I related that right away to the way I make art. I’ve always thought that whatever I’m feeling when I go into the studio comes out into the clay. The clay feels that and the clay sees that.

What about the actual technique of shaping clay versus moving the body?

When you first learn to close a vessel when you’re doing in pottery, you learn that your inside finger is important in relation to what your outside finger is doing. Finger coordination in massage felt really similar in that way.

The main thing is the actual physical sensation of the wet clay on your hands and the way it responds to your fingers. That’s really similar when you’re working on a body. It’ll first feel like there’s no response, and then eventually your fingers start to feel the details.

Heather Bradley Ceramicist- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Spinal #7, porcelain, 13 x 6.5 x 6.5 in.

Describe the compositional decisions that went into creating the innominate installation.

One thing that was really important to me from the beginning was the color red. There had to be red pieces that felt like blood. I wanted it to be like a vein through the installation. So I started with the red.

And then there’s the white porcelain pots that I made. All of them have necks that are like spines, with black lines on them. Music has always been a big influence on my work, so I wanted to put the white pots on the wall in a way that mimics sheet music.

How did you decide to put text directly on the wall?

Once I put the pots together it felt like there was some element missing. I’ve always been a writer. When I went to India I spent 6 months writing a book. I write, write, write.

One of the elements of the show is journal pieces that I made out of porcelain slabs. I shook them out and made them thin so they’d kind of echo paper. And then I literally wrote my journal entries on them. They’re personal about my relationship or dramas that went on at the time. But I though they worked with the show. The writing element just tied it all together. I think of the journal pages and the writing on the wall as just one piece. The verbal part of the show.

Heather Bradley Ceramicist- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Arterial #6, stoneware, 4 x 4 x 4 in.

So, despite being told not to massage or work with clay, they’re the things that helped you heal? 

Yeah, I think so. When I first got into the studio, I had so much pain and numbness in my neck and shoulders. My ego got crazy and I thought, I’m gonna make the biggest pieces I’ve ever made. And I tried to muscle through making these gigantic pieces, but they had no grace. They just went back into the slop pile. When I started to slow down and think about what would be an honest thing for me to make in this situation, they got smaller and more intimate.

Click here to view all of Heather Bradley’s work in the form & concept collection.

Heather Bradley- innominate ceramics installation- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico

Artist Spotlight: Heather Bradley

Heather Bradley Ceramics- Innominate Series- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico

Heather Bradley‘s new art installation, innominate, is a centerpiece of our One-Year Anniversary Exhibition. Heather perched red and white pottery on small shelves that span a 30-foot stretch of wall. Between the vessels are sheets of porcelain with diary entries scrawled on them, and words painted directly on the wall in elegant cursive.

The words hint at innominate‘s deeply personal story arc: “body,” “wound,” “heal” and “scar” are among them. The pottery is titled after the human body as well, with three distinct series dubbed Arterial, Spinal and Handheld. Heather was inspired to write a new artist statement after completing the series. Read her words below, and keep your eye out for a forthcoming video and blog post that explores the story behind innominate. 

My hands have been in clay now for 22 years. They’ve grown more and more adept at predicting the behavior of the clay and manipulating it into the forms I want. Now, my hands are also essential to my job.  I recently received my license as a massage therapist, and this new endeavor has been making me think of my ceramic work in a whole new light.

I think of my pots as frozen moments in time, almost literally. The clay goes from a sloppy wet, flowing substance to a dry, solid, more permanent object so quickly. Whatever I bring to the potter’s wheel on any given day is materialized into the work.

Heather Bradley Ceramics- Spinal Series- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico

The way in which I approach a massage table is very similar to the way in which I approach my potter’s wheel. I must be very conscious of my own mental state, my thoughts, and my own body when giving a massage. I must watch my breath, be super-attentive to the placement of my fingers, and the angle of my neck when giving massage. 

My experience as a massage therapist has begun informing my art work in various ways. I find myself thinking of the necks of pots as vertebral columns, wedging the clay using the body mechanics I was taught in deep tissue class, and using my palpation skills to find air bubbles and imperfections. 

Heather Bradley Ceramics- Arterial Series- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico

Most significantly, being a massage therapist has taught me more about proprioception – the awareness of one’s own body, one’s own sense of how they occupy space. I’m now approaching my clay with a greater sense of self, my body, and in particular, my hands, and what they can feel.  

I believe the more and more I can truly be present and embodied, the more the work will flow honestly through me and carry a sense of the moment in which it was created.

Heather Bradley Ceramics- Handheld Series- Form and Concept Gallery- Santa Fe New Mexico

Click here to browse all of Heather’s work on our website, and make sure to come see her innominate installation. It’s on view through October 22, as part of our One-Year Anniversary Exhibition. Stay tuned for a studio visit video and blog, where Heather will reveal her inspiration for the innominate series.

One Year of form & concept

form & concept gallery- One-Year Anniversary Celebration- Santa Fe New Mexico

Since its inaugural show in May 2016, form & concept has invited diverse creatives to unleash their superpowers in a series of dynamic exhibitions. The mission is to explore the perceived boundaries between art, craft and design—and expand the public’s understanding of their interdependence in the contemporary world. To mark the opening of our One-Year Anniversary Exhibition, we threw a Superhero Masquerade on May 26. The celebration was our tribute to the artists who have filled our walls, and the remarkable capabilities they wield to tell stories that inspire. We challenged visitors to discover their own powers by wearing masks, capes and other heroic accouterments to the event. Scroll down to see photos from the masquerade by Kara Duval, and make sure to check out our One-Year Anniversary Exhibition (on view through October 22, 2017).

Summer Artist Talk: Heather Bradley

Ceramicist Heather Bradley continues form & concept’s Summer Artist Talks series. She will speak about her artwork on Saturday, June 10, 2-3 pm. The talk takes place during form & concept’s One-Year Anniversary Exhibition, featuring new artwork from all of the gallery’s represented artists.

RSVP on Facebook.


Heather Bradley’s ceramic forms reflect the repetition in the natural world, endlessly exploring variations on a theme. “I work in clay because I love to work with my hands. I love the feeling of the earth between my fingers and everything about the way the clay behaves. The potter’s wheel has proven to be the perfect tool for me because I want to make work with a sense of elegance, symmetry, and simple beauty. I work in multiples and I thrive in repetition. The wheel lends itself to this. With each experience on the wheel, my hands remember and learn.” Born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Heather studied art at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida. She received a B.F.A. in Painting from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces in 2000, and in 2001 lived and worked in Galway, Ireland. Heather received her M.F.A. in Ceramics from N.M.S.U. in 2005. Currently she lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Click here to browse Heather Bradley’s artwork.

Summer Artist Talks Schedule

In its first year, form & concept has emphasized powerful and diverse storytelling through its exhibition schedule and programs. The gallery’s roster of represented artists has been steadily growing, making for a dynamic One-Year Anniversary Exhibition (May 26-October 22, 2017). The majority of form & concept’s represented artists will speak, along with several guest artists.

Matthew Mullins & Wesley Anderegg | 5/27/17, 2-3 pm
Heidi Brandow | 6/3/17, 2-3 pm
Heather Bradley | 6/10/17, 2-3 pm
NoiseFold | 6/17/17, 2-3 pm*
Rebecca Rutstein | 7/1/17, 2-3 pm
Elana Schwartz | 7/8/17, 2-3 pm
Debra Baxter | 7/15/17, 2-3 pm
Jared Weiss | 7/22/17, 2-3 pm*
Armond Lara | 8/20/17, 2-3 pm
Broken Boxes Artists & Curators Panel Discussion | 8/20/17, 3-4 pm*

*Guest artists. All other participants are form & concept represented artists.

Studio Visit: Heather Bradley

“I touched each one, and decided each one was worthy,” says Heather Bradley. She’s standing above a canopy of ceramics, clustered on a long table in her studio. The elegant porcelain vessels she’s created represent over a year of her artistic output, and some of the last pieces have just emerged from the kiln. “I think of them as ‘the family,'” she explains. “Today, some of them are meeting the other ones for the first time. It feels complete.”

Heather is originally from Tennessee, and studied art history at the University of West Florida. She first came to New Mexico on the National Student Exchange, completing an BFA in painting at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. “I was just going to stay for a semester, and then I stayed for a year, and then I decided to stay here for the rest of my life,” she says. After completing her MFA in Ceramics at NMSU Las Cruces, she moved to Santa Fe and has fostered a prolific career.

Now Heather is part of form & concept’s permanent stable of artists. During our studio visit, she talked about passing her 20th year of making ceramics, engaging with the New Mexico landscape, and confidently defying the expectations of the ceramics community. Read the full interview below, and make sure to browse Heather’s artwork in our online store.

Heather Bradley Ceramics- form and concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley’s new body of work is the culmination of 1.5 years of making.

You presented a brand new body of work for your first display at form & concept. Tell us about selecting the pieces.

I switched to porcelain about two years ago from stonework. I loved the porcelain so much that I wanted to, for the first time, not make many marks on the surface. But then when I started working with the porcelain, there was lots of cracking and breaking. It’s fragile. For each one that I chose in this body of work, there were probably three or four that didn’t make it. They either broke, or died, or weren’t worthy.

So this is the culmination of a long-term experiment?

It is. I’ve been hoarding these for a special show. I really wanted to show them together because I think of them as ‘the family.’ Today, some of them are meeting the other ones for the first time. It feels complete. I feel like the colors are talking to each other more now. The porcelain itself is just really new and special for me. I feel like I’m finally able to handle it.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

What are some special considerations that you have to make when you’re working with porcelain, versus other mediums that you’ve worked with in the past?

You have to work faster, for one thing, because the porcelain won’t handle a lot of manhandling. It holds up for a certain time, and then it gets too wet and just flops. I have to go fast when I’m throwing it, but then when it’s drying it has to dry really slowly and carefully. I have to be patient with firing. I’ve had several that I fired too soon, that exploded because there was too much moisture.

I also have to be a bit more sensitive with my fingers. The porcelain has a memory. If I make one little move, if I sneeze or something while I’m touching it, then it remembers that. I just have to be really focused because the porcelain is so sensitive.

How does it feel when a piece explodes in the kiln. Is that a little tragedy, or is it just another casualty of your work?

I’ve had a lot of time to analyze those feelings. Just the other day, I opened the kiln and the top part of the kiln made me very happy. I was like, ‘Oh, those are beautiful.’ Then I could see shards around the edges. On the bottom part of the kiln, they were all exploded and broken. I felt awful. I don’t know how else to explain it, it’s very disheartening. I guess in a sense after you lose so many of them, the ones that I do have become a bit more precious, because they feel like survivors.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Vessel 10, porcelain, 11″ x 6″ x 6″

In your artist statement, you talk about finding these imperfections in the final products that give them their personality or essence. How do you balance that with your desire for perfection?

There’s something imperfect about each one. Maybe there’s a mark that I didn’t intend,  or the hole isn’t perfectly circular. At first, I’ll say, ‘Oh, reject pile.’ But then it starts growing on me.

When I’m throwing, I feel like I’m always trying to do a variation on the same form. I try to find some perfection or get close to something that I feel is elegant, but it never quite happens.

I start to relate it to being human. There’s nothing perfect about any aspect of me. I can find an imperfection about every single thing, so I just kind of accept it with the work. I notice that when people interact with it, a lot of times it is the imperfections that they’re drawn to.

How do you feel when someone notices an imperfection like that, and falls in the love the piece because of it?

I’ve noticed that over the years. A lot of times I’ll show someone something, and I’ll start to apologize. I’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know what I was thinking at this point.” Or “It touched another piece in the kiln.” or “It has this mark on it that I didn’t intend.”

They would usually not really enjoy that apology, because that’s what they were connecting to. I’ve tried to also accept those imperfections, and see them as what makes it human-made rather than machine-made. That’s a good thing.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

You’re originally from Tennessee. How did you end up out here?

I went to school in University of West Florida, and was studying art history. I wrote a paper about Georgia O’Keeffe, and then I came on a national student exchange. I chose New Mexico because of O’Keeffe. I went to New Mexico State in Las Cruces. I was just going to stay for a semester, and then I stayed for a year, and then I decided to stay here for the rest of my life.

You studied painting before you were in ceramics. How did that transition happen?

I was studying painting and I was also studying ceramics. One day I brought my ceramics to my painting critique, and it was a completely different response. Everyone in the room was like, “You should be doing this. You can keep [painting] but we don’t really care, but you should be doing this.”

It was a relief, because that’s where I really wanted to be. Painting felt more like labor, and ceramics was what I could do when I was finally finished painting. I took it as a sign, and started focusing more on ceramics. I got my BFA in painting, and my MFA in ceramics.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Vessel 26, porcelain, 9.5″ x 5″ x 5″

New Mexico seems like such a perfect place for a potter, because you can pick up the earth and shape it into something. The structures around us are made from the earth. Could you talk about connecting with this landscape, and the initial feeling of making pottery here?

In Las Cruces, I was definitely blown away by the landscape. It’s so different from Tennessee because you can really see the earth. There are a lot of ceramics going on down there too, so I was inspired by other potters. Being in Santa Fe, I spend a lot of time in the mountains. I went up Santa Fe Baldy a lot this summer. I feel a lot of connection with the sky, too. Some of the surfaces and colors of my ceramics are inspired by that connection with the sky. Sunset and sunrises.

Something about having your hands in the clay makes you feel more connected to the earth. With the porcelain, it feels so refined. It’s expensive clay, and you have to go to a particular store to buy it. Sometimes it doesn’t just feel like I have my hands in the mud, it feels like I have my hands in expensive, refined, imported materials.

Could you talk about your current thoughts on color, and how you chose the palette for this body of work?

I made some pieces before this that were all black and white. I worked in black and white for quite a while before I started adding the color. At first I felt a little bit afraid to use pastel colors, because there are a lot of cultural associations with pastels. I was worried that people were going to have a connection to pink in a different way than I saw it. But I just went with it, because there are a lot of these colors in nature.

There’s something about the subtlety of them that spoke to femininity for me. There’s a softness, but also the gradation of color reminds me of nature and things that happen on the ocean, and in the sky, and on rocks. I’ve always loved what copper can do, so there’s a lot of coppery colors. I feel like it’s a pretty broad palette. It kind of does cover the spectrum, but for me I needed them all to speak to each other. They needed to be balanced. It’s really nice to finally see them all together today.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

They do feel like organic forms, perhaps eggs or seed pods. Was that part of the intention?

I can relate to the seed pod part. I’m definitely inspired by Native American ceramics, and the pots that have the tiny holes that they used for seed pots. I’ve always been drawn to close the top of the pot. I’ve spent so many hours of my life in pottery classes, where they were teaching me to make bowls and teapots and cups and plates. My teachers can’t make me keep the form open. I just can’t do it. I want to close the form, I think it creates a more sensual look to me.

Sometimes it reminds of the top of cathedral spires, or they have these beautiful Buddhist stupas that they use in graveyards that have this spirally top as well that inspire me. I don’t really think of things growing out of them, necessarily.

The work is just at the edge of being fully functional. You could put a flower in them, but you couldn’t fit a whole bouquet. Are you referencing functional pottery?

Yes, sometimes I’ll be really inspired by amphoras or different water vessels in Africa, or things that people use. I think there’s sort of a rebellion in me that’s like, “Try to use it. I don’t know, put a stick of incense into it.” I really just want them to be art.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Vessel 32, porcelain, 14.5″ x 8″ x 8″

You mentioned the “memory” of the pots earlier. Could you talk about your tactile memory when you’re making work, and also the memory that the pot itself preserves afterwards?

It’s interesting, because I’ve been noticing how long I’ve been doing this lately. I just turned 40, and I started doing it when I was 19. I’ve always closed the form, and all my teachers have tried to make me not close the form. A lot of time when I’ve been throwing the long necks, people will ask me how I do that, and I can’t really seem to put it in words. But my hands know, and I like that. I can take a break from the pottery, and it’s like riding a bike in a way. I’ll think maybe I’ve forgotten, but my fingers remember how to close the form

I think for each piece I make, it does sort of encapsulate a moment in time or a day. I can remember which ones I made when I first went to the studio, and what was happening in my life. The clay is so sensitive, and I can remember taking the needle tool and making that mark, and feeling like I have that freedom to mark the clay.

So, for you, the work really chronicles all sorts of moments in your life?

I do feel like that. It is almost a diary ,in a way. I have no idea if that’s conveyed to the audience or not, in any way. But this is a year and a half of my life. That’s how I feel.

What would you call that era in your life, if you had to label it?

I guess “40.” Turning 40 was like, “Whoa, good job me.” I stuck with it. I remember, when I first started when I was 19, walking back from pottery classes and feeling so defeated. It was something I wanted to be so good at, but my hands were incompetent, and I was so aware that I was incompetent. But I had to keep doing it. This year, I realized that I don’t feel that way anymore. That was nice.

Come view Heather’s new work in form & concept’s upstairs gallery, and click over to our online store to see the whole collection.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

4 New Artists

Heidi K. Brandow has a very clear mission for her artwork. “To be able to create work that transcends those cultural, and social, and economic boundaries,” the Santa Fe artist says. “I want my work to reach everyone.” Her quest fits right in at form & concept. We’re all about connecting diverse audiences with art, craft and design in new ways –and encouraging them to reconsider the perceived divisions between them.

That’s why we’re bringing Heidi on board, along with three other artists who are ready to challenge the status quo in more ways than one. Join us at our 4 New Artists opening reception on Friday, October 28 to see new artwork by Heidi, Matthew Mullins, Heather Bradley and Wesley Anderegg, and keep an eye on our blog over the next few weeks for a special video series that explores their studio spaces. Look above for a sneak peek at the videos, and watch Matthew’s video here.