Video: ‘Always at the wheel.’ Meet Berkeley porcelain artist Coille Hooven

When porcelain artist Coille Hooven first came to Berkeley in 1970, she knew she’d found her home.

She was visiting from Baltimore for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference, an annual gathering held that year at California College of the Arts in Oakland. She and her husband were instructors at the Maryland Institute College of Art and raising two young children. When she got home from the conference Hooven told her husband that she was determined to move to Berkeley. But he wasn’t swayed.

“So I took them away from him,” says Hooven, referring to their children. “That was me.”

Settling in at a home on Ward Street in Berkeley, Hooven built a studio in the back that quickly became a magnet for women ceramicists and other artists.

“There were people here all the time,” says her daughter, Molly Hooven. “She had a whole crew of women helping with her ornaments or glazing.”

The job of firing the kiln was often left to Molly. “The scariest job possible,” as she remembers it.

The biannual studio sales were the most lively times of the year.

“People would literally line up in the driveway so they could get the best stuff on time, before anybody else,” says Molly.

Hooven’s output was astonishing.

“Thousands and thousands of functional pieces,” says Farrol Mertes, an archivist working with Hooven to catalog her life’s work. “And the fine art pieces: thousands!”

Hooven, she says, was constantly at the wheel.

“In more ways than one were you at the wheel,” says Molly to her mother. “You were at the helm.”

Hooven is no longer making work.

“There’s something going on in my brain, so I’m not as acute as I used to be,” she says.

But then she gestures to her Molly and Farrol. “But I have my excellent people who can remember everything.”