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Fresh Coast Creatives: Sculpting with Julie Kradel

Ceramic sculpture artist Julie Kradel's studio | Photo: Max Howard
Max Howard
Ceramic sculpture artist Julie Kradel's studio | Photo: Max Howard

In this episode of Fresh Coast Creatives, Max Howard dives into the world of ceramic sculpture artist Julie Kradel at her Cedar studio.

Kradel’s studio has most of the things you’d expect – a few work tables – two kilns – but how you can tell this is Julie's studio is by the number of animal sculptures strewn throughout.

Not all the animals are Julie’s – some are for anatomical reference, some are from fellow artists she enjoys – but when you see Kradel’s work, it's unmistakable hers.

None are larger than a kid’s stuffed animal doll and all of them have a subtle fairy tale quality to them.

In one corner, a rabbit playfully lays on its back with its feet kicked in the air. On another table a long-eared dog sleeps on the back of a lazy horse.

”When I was growing up, we moved a lot, and books were my friends. I loved animal stories like Aesop's Fables,” Kradel said.

Kradel made art long before she did it for a living. She tinkered with tile and fabric and tole painting, but most of her time was taken up being a stay-at-home mom for 30 years.

Max Howard
Julie Kradel

But then, one opportunity set the tone for her artistic career. When Kradel lived downstate in the outer reaches of Metro Detroit, she took a ceramics class where her instructor, Sharon Summers, said she could bring a model of her choosing.

“They all knew that I had chickens and horses and Sharon goes, Well, why don't you bring some of those in? And I'm like, Okay!” said Kradel. “I brought sheep. I took lambs in!”

And then, when her children were grown and out of the house, Julie ended up getting divorced. What to do next wasn’t immediately obvious. She didn’t have a lot of work experience and needed some kind of income.

So she moved around for a bit – living in Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida – staying with her family when she could. Eventually her daughter, who lived here in Kingsley, told Julie to come live with her. She could help her get settled and figure out how to start a new life.

“When I moved up here I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Kradel. “Then my daughter said, ‘Well, why don't you become a nurse?’ And so I went to sign up at NMC all set to go in the fall.”

Later that same summer, a friend invited her to a dinner party. A friend of her told her that she had someone she thought Kradel would like to meet. “And I was like, I don't want to meet anybody. My life is set,” Kradel said. “I've got a plan. I want to stick to my plan.”

At the party, she met her future partner, Steve Kostyshyn.

“I'm standing there making my awful guacamole because the avocados were too hard,” said Kradel, “and Steve comes in the door. It was like the sunshine walked through the door. Long story short, I ended up staying the rest of the evening. And I called him and asked him out for a date. And we've been together ever since.”

Steve, it turned out, was an artist too – at the time he was working in porcelain and stoneware and exhibiting regularly. So naturally, Julie started attending his shows.

And then she had an idea.

“When I met Steve, I was still planning on being a nurse,” Kradel said. “But yet when I went with him to shows, I thought, I can do this.”

Julie started working out of Steve’s studio – which soon became both of their studios. She already had an edge when it came to trying to make it as an artist. She had been practicing for the last 30 years.

But on top of that, she now also joined a community of artists through Steve. “I didn't have to have that learning curve of like, what kind of images do I need to submit?” said Kradel. “What kind of boost slide do I need to submit? What shows are the best to apply to? “

Julie had decades of experience and this new community to help start her career, but the decision to become an artist was just that – a decision she made at a crossroads in her life.

And maybe that’s a part of what makes an artist. Not just the talent or having the inspiration, but the ability to change up and set a new course of their life. One of their own making.

Support for Fresh Coast Creatives comes from the Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network, inviting you to warm up with the arts this winter, and through an award from Michigan Arts & Culture Council.