Julia Stern ’25 smiles and chats as she sips her morning coffee out of a cornflower-and camel-colored mug. A closer look reveals an intricate painting of a rock formation juxtaposed against the open space of a baby blue sky. Julia’s painted mugs, based on her nature and travel photography, were the subject of adoration in her residence hall. Friends then encouraged her to submit her work to the Kitao first-year art show.
Although Stern asserts she is not an artist, her mugs seem to poetically reflect her path in life, alluding to great adventure as they stand on display in the Kitao gallery. Describing the pottery selected for the show, Stern said, “One is a sunset and some trees, based on a picture I took at my friend’s house in the forest in Massachusetts. And the other one is at Arches National Park in Utah, of Delicate Arch.”
Both are based on photos Stern took, though she prefers to recreate these scenes through her own lens, bringing their wonder into daily life by transforming them into usable pottery. Stern’s artistic focus on the natural world acts as a way of personalizing her outdoor adventures.
“I spent my past year on a gap year going to a lot of different national parks and hiking and camping and being in nature, and I just got a better appreciation for nature, and it definitely makes me feel calm and at peace. It’s nice to paint so I have those images to help bring back those feelings of calm when I’m stressed out.”
As Stern uses her pottery, she reimagines the role of art in quotidian life, accessing the peace of her camping and exploration through the simple act of sipping coffee. Although her art is infused into life at Swarthmore, Stern focuses on the process of creation as a means of relaxation and self-expression.
“It’s more about the process of painting and stuff that’s relaxing to me and less about the final product. There’s a little pottery painting place by my house at home, and in my free time I like to go there and just paint mugs and plates and bowls and stuff, just because it’s relaxing. The past few months I’ve done pictures of things that already exist.”
Julia’s pottery reflecteds a year of learning and adventure, but it also anticipated her arrival at Swarthmore. Just as her pottery continues to reflect her journeys, seeing her gap-year inspired art in the Kitao gallery was symbolic of a new point in life.
“It is kind of full circle, isn’t it? More than anything it was just kind of cool to see my art in a gallery; I was proud of myself. It was bringing my gap year to its close by sharing it at Swarthmore.”
Photographs courtesy of the author