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East Bradenton artist incorporates cultural history into her pottery

Each of Mill Creek's Wilma Kroese's pottery pieces are unique. She uses horse hair, wood, seaweed and other materials to add a natural look to her pottery.
Each of Mill Creek's Wilma Kroese's pottery pieces are unique. She uses horse hair, wood, seaweed and other materials to add a natural look to her pottery.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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While at the beach or on vacation, Mill Creek’s Wilma Kroese always is on the hunt for the perfect piece of nature to add to her pottery.

It could be a feather that’s the right size to imprint on a piece. It could be a piece of seaweed that adds texture and detail.

It could be a piece of wood that has just the right amount of curve in it to serve as a handle on a pot or a piece of wood that looks edgy to contrast her perfectly smooth lidded jars.

No matter the find, Kroese said it has to speak to her.

Kroese’s finds in nature often serve as the accent features in her pottery that people find unique and draw them to her table at the Creative Arts Association of Lakewood Ranch’s annual Spring Arts Show and Sale, which will be on March 23 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

Kroese’s love for pottery started 17 years ago when she moved to Manatee County and her friend, Maddy Freshwater, brought her to a pottery class at ArtCenter Manatee.

Mill Creek's Wilma Kroese has made a part of her garage into her pottery studio.
Photo by Liz Ramos

She had experimented with painting but discovered it wasn’t for her. She already was a seamstress but wanted to try something new.

She said it was the feeling of the clay and the fun of getting muddy and dirty that drew her to pottery.

But her adventures into pottery weren’t always a success from the beginning.

Kroese recalled her first piece of pottery she tried to make, a pear-shaped pinch pot.

She made the piece with too much clay, making it too heavy. It exploded in the kiln. 

After four years with ArtCenter Manatee, Kroese’s passion for pottery grew so much she decided to purchase her own supplies and create a pottery studio in her garage. 

Kroese started experimenting with her pottery. 

Native American pottery intrigued her. She and her husband, Fred Kroese, have traveled to Acoma Pueblo and Zuni Pueblo, both of which are Native American villages in New Mexico. She loved the look and design of the tribes’ work and after doing research, she thought she could create similar pottery. 

That’s when Kroese began using horse hair in her work. 

Her favorite piece is a large, shallow bowl that is a light red fired in the kiln with horse hair to give it a vein-like effect. The piece remains on her kitchen table because she loves it so much she refuses to sell it. 

One of Mill Creek's Wilma Kroese's favorite pieces she's created is a large, shallow bowl. She used horse hair to create the vein-like effect on the bowl.
Photo by Liz Ramos

She sometimes would make the pottery using clay from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to have a red tinge to it and meticulously place a few strands of horse hair on it. As it’s in the kiln, the horse hair burns an imprint into the pottery to create a random, vein-like effect that cannot be replicated, making each of her pieces unique. 

Although she only needs a handful of strands, Kroese said horse hair is hard to come by, but luckily she has a few friends who own horses and are willing to give her strands of their horses’ hair.

Kroese has learned pottery sometimes can be an exact science. Through trial and error, she’s learned her pieces need to be taken out of the kiln when they reach 1,000 degrees. Too hot, and the horse hair will scorch the pottery and make it black. Too cold and the horse hair won’t adhere to the pottery and create a carbon print. The pieces also have to be constructed so they are sustainable but not too heavy. If not, they explode. 

“I lost a lot of pieces while experimenting,” she said with a laugh. 

She’s also had a close call while firing her pottery. 

The first time she fired her raku kiln, she opened the gas for too long and when she looked into the kiln, the flame almost hit her. 

“That was a close one,” she said. 

But with more experience, she’s been able to create bowls, lidded jars, vases and more. Although not her favorite style, she will glaze mugs, Christmas angels and trees and other pieces because she knows glazed work sells well. 

Around the holidays, Mill Creek's Wilma Kroese creates angel ornaments. Although not her favorite, Kroese will glaze her pottery because she knows it's a fan-favorite.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Some of her favorite pieces incorporate the pieces of wood she found in canyons in New Mexico that had red sand infused in them. 

While on vacation, Kroese doesn’t limit herself on the number of natural pieces she takes home. She has traveled home with bags of wood and other findings. 

“Even my husband said if we have to, we can FedEx them home,” Kroese said. 

When Kroese joined the Creative Arts Association of Lakewood Ranch and participated in her first show in 2017, she was nervous. She wasn’t sure how people would react to her work and if she would sell anything. 

But her nerves were quickly calmed after she sold her first small vase. She said she was proud. 

“I could tell my husband, ‘See all those pieces? I’m bringing in money now,’” she said. 

Kroese said she’s loved getting to meet new people, both clients and other artists. She’s honored when someone approaches her for custom work such as when a woman from Venice asked her to create a vase using hairs from her horse that had died. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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