A few weeks back, we had the good fortune to be granted permission (after incessant begging) to enter the shared property of Jessica Agnew and her mentor, ceramic artist Dick Hotchkiss. There are a number of structures on the land, built by hand some decades ago, showing signs of age, but more so boasting the resilience of wood, good craftsmanship, and rich stories. There is little separation between inside and outside with these buildings, and even less distinction between life and art. Life-sized sculptures populate the property. Heaps of discarded pottery sit as an homage to the process of creation. The place exudes passion, and also clearly helped to foster it. Jessica is a deeply beloved member of our community, an artist and musician. Without going on too much about her, and we could, we will share our interview instead and let her speak for herself.
How long have you lived in Nevada County?
I have lived in Nevada County for 25 years. My folks settled here when I was two years old. They would come up here a lot to just visit for a long time before I was born. My dad bought a lot when I was three months old and by the time I was two he transferred jobs and started building the house me, my two brothers, and my mom and dad lived in for most my life. My Dad fell in love with this place and I think he was ready to get out of southern California and wanted to raise us up in the county. We grew up going to all the rivers and lakes and swimming our hearts out. I swam commpetively most of my life. I was on a year around swim team from age 6 on and continued all the way through high school and college. We always had a veggie garden and were covered in dirt.
Can you describe what this place means to you? How it lives in you?
This place for me is the definition of home. It feels like part of me....the seasons, the smells, the river. I feel like we kinda just grew together. It is my safe spot and I feel confident and beautiful here.
What do you love most about this area? What do you miss when you leave?
I love so many things about this place. I love the tall trees and the Yuba river, the community we have in Nevada City, my country boyfriend (who went to high school with me), and the music I grew up listening to (I love Aaron Ross! haha).
I've had a hard time leaving here for a long time. I left after high school and went to college and came back after a year. I gave it another shot and moved to southern California and came back after a year. I miss my family when I leave. I miss the smiles on the street when you pass people. And I miss the mountains and the river.
What do you do here in the Gold Country?
Oh man. Well I spend a lot of my time being a barista at The Curly Wolf. It really is a special place to me. It's my other little family and a place where I am a big part of the community. I mess around with clay sometimes. I work in Richard Hotchkiss's studio and live on his land where this studio is. I had a class with him in 2009. I think and it pulled me out of a dark place I was in at the time. I always loved clay and took classes in high school and college. I have been able to participate in wood-firings at the John Woolman school for the past four years. I've been able to go dig local clay with him and split lots and lots of firewood.
Beading is something I've fallen into. I fell in love with this form of art and the colors and patterns and how beautiful they look.
As for singing and songwriting...I don't know what I would do without it. When I was a little girl I would sit next to my dad and sing while he played our white piano. I grew up playing the piano but never stuck with it. When I was in high school I would go to every local show I could possibly go to no matter what. I remember Joe Meade helping me sneak into shows at the Crazy horse to see Them Hills. I think I had a crush on every guy that was in a band in Nevada City. All I wanted to do was play guitar and sing....and try to play a show sometime. I would play local open mics and write in my leather notebooks. Eventually I started having real shows. I think my first being at Café Mekka, thanks to Joe Meade and Josh Henry. Now I've had shows with one of my role models growing up. Music makes me feel something; heartache, Inspiration, beauty, love and sadness.
Who are your teachers or mentors?
Richard Hotckiss I have to say, is one of my biggest teachers and mentors. He had taught me so much about ceramics and art and also life in general. He is a special soul and I feel so lucky to have him as one of my best friends. My Dad and Mom have always been so encouraging to whatever Ive always wanted to do...being there when I need them and always telling me to do what makes me happy. The Yuba river is a big teacher to me as well. Its my place of refuge. Where I can wash clear everything....where I can feel alive, sit alone and know that everything is going to be ok.
What inspires you creatively that is specific to this place?
I think that for pottery it's so inspiring to be able to create things that come directly from the earth here. It feels so connective to be able to use materials that are local and fire them to make it permanent. The beauty of the Sierra Foothills inspires me. The blooming of the flowers in the spring, the running water of the river, the fallen down buildings scattered about the county.
Would you change anything? What is challenging about living here, if anything?
What I find challenging, selfishly, is how much it has grown, how many people are at the river stepping over me at my spot that used to be just mine. I get frustrated with that.
What makes your heart sing loudest?
I don't know what makes my heart sing the loudest, I hope to figure that out. I'm such an emotional person. Somedays I just feel so sad and I'm not always sure why. I guess that's why I write and sing songs, why being part of the community is so special, to be caught when you are falling down. My heart sings the loudest when I'm underwater, or at the top of a mountain, or lying under the stars on a hot summer night, the breeze through my hair.
The ceiling boards in her kitchen above were taken from an abandoned Gold Rush flume and hauled back to the property where they became this stunning ceiling. Forty years later and still going strong. The interior of the building is flavored with Jess' own personal love of color and design.
<< All photos by Kat Alves >>