In our weekly Featured Shop series, we shine a light on a standout shop from Etsy’s talented seller community, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at their process and story.
At first glance, the intricate bud vases, ring dishes, and lidded pots from Yumiko Goto’s shop, Echo of Nature, look like they belong in a museum display. Crafted from pure porcelain clay and glazed in soothing shades of green and blue, it’s hard to tell that these artful, Earth-inspired ceramics double as functional housewares—and that’s by design. “My vases don’t look like vases at first,” explains Yumiko, who shapes each piece by hand in her Cleveland, Ohio studio. “But if you look closer, they’re containers to hold water and flowers. My artwork has sculptural elements; I want it to have that dual purpose.”
The clever combination of form and function has earned this Cleveland-based artist, teacher, and mother-of-two a loyal following with shoppers eager to incorporate a reminder of the great outdoors into their living spaces, no matter the season. “I really want my customers to feel like they’re bringing the outside into their home,” says Yumiko. “That’s what I’m hoping for with my pieces.” Whether that means filling a petal-adorned vase with a sprig of fresh blooms or simply perching it atop a shelf to admire its flowery shape, Yumiko’s exquisite work lets you enjoy the beauty and wonder of nature year-round.
Read on to learn more about Yumiko’s pieces and discover how her upbringing in Japan influences her work—then shop the Echo of Nature collection.
What were some of the first pieces that you ever made?
My first piece was a ceramic lidded container that I made to bring rocks, pebbles, and other natural elements into my own home. At first I just wanted a container to hold the objects, and then I started designing the container so that it reflected those objects. And people really liked it!
When did you know that you wanted to make art professionally?
From the time when I was very young, I always wanted to work with my hands. I grew up in Japan, and my grandmother was a professional kimono maker. Both of my parents worked, so I spent a lot of time with her, and we did a lot of craft projects. There were always pieces of kimono fabric laying around the house; we sewed together, and we also made origami.
I think I always knew I wanted to be some kind of artist, but at first I thought I would be a painter or an illustrator. But when I took my first ceramics class during art school, I just fell into the medium immediately. I loved the tactile quality of the clay.
What are some of the things you like most about working with clay?
I like that you can manipulate it any way you want to. I also love the transient quality: It starts out soft and malleable, and when you fire your piece, it gets really hard. After you apply your glaze, it becomes a shiny, beautiful piece of art. I like the transformation.
Hearing you talk about the transformation of clay reminds me of all the seasonal shifts in nature.
Oh, yeah, definitely! Japanese culture has events all throughout the year associated with nature. As a family, we always celebrated the natural harvest and turns of the seasons, which definitely influenced me as an artist. We have really fun traditions that we do together, like decorating the bamboo tree in the summertime, and celebrating the rice field. We also have a really rich history of ceramics and pottery. I think the whole experience of growing up there helped establish my artistic aesthetic.
Can your describe your creative process?
I sketch a lot, but when I work, most of the forms exist in my mind already. Some of my artwork is more abstract rather than representational—for example, I’ll combine a flower with a twig, and blend the elements together to create a mysterious hybrid piece. I want to give a sense of wonderment to the viewer; it’s almost like an abstract collage of natural elements.
In terms of materials, I use porcelain clay which is a very fine, pure white clay. I build the forms, then I fire and glaze them. I really like the chemistry of creating a glaze, combining the chemicals, and seeing what comes out. It’s a magical process.
How much trial and error goes into making the perfect glaze?
You definitely have to do lots of testing before you apply a glaze on the final product. It’s almost like cooking—a little bit of sugar, a pinch of salt. It’s the same process, adding a little bit of the glaze chemicals here and there and creating the just-right texture and color. It takes a lot of experimentation, but it’s fun.
How has your collection evolved over the years?
It’s been a natural progression over time, growing from my customers’ feedback or just taking a nature walk and getting inspired for a new collection. Just about anything can spark an idea. Standing in the kitchen, if I cut a piece of fruit or a vegetable and see that they have a beautiful pattern inside, I’ll think, “Why don’t I incorporate that into my designs?” I like to play it by ear and go by flow.
Have you ever made any really memorable custom orders?
It’s interesting, a lot of customers actually ask me to make custom containers that they use as urns. I never intended to make urns, but people will tell me stories like, “Oh, this is for my dog, he used to smell this flower,” or “My rabbit liked to play with twigs, and your artwork reminds me of them.”
How does teaching ceramics impact your personal practice?
I’ve been teaching ceramics at the local community college since 2008, and I get really energized by my students. I’ve been doing ceramics for 20 years now, and when you’ve been doing something for so long, you can lose the freshness a little bit. Then I start teaching, and I see those beginners who are so excited about everything. It reminds me of when I took my first class; I was like that. It’s a good reminder.
What are some of your goals for the future?
I never want to leave natural elements behind, but I’d like to try making something more strictly sculptural, like a wall hanging. I’m also interested in making wearable pieces, like something you can put in your hair.
Photographs by Sharon Hughes.