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When you look at Jingjing Ceramics, it’s easy to conjure up corresponding details of the imaginary world these mythological characters, in the form of mugs and vases, would inhabit. And when you read about the self-described “forensic investigator by day and artist by night” who created them, you want to learn more.
I certainly did.
I first came across Bentonville resident Jingjing Yu’s work in the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ gift shop in Little Rock. She is one of the handful of Arkansas artists the curators selected to feature in their grand opening as an inaugural vendor.
A few weekends later, I zeroed in on her unmistakable mugs at the 5th Street Makers Market in Bentonville. As it turns out, that is where she began her craft.
According to her bio, Yu “creates ceramic tableware, functional sculptures and occasionally decorative pieces. Her signature style is anthropomorphic (and sometimes mythological) characters in the form of mugs and vases. She crafts a range of cute, worldly animals with red blush and bright coats, as well as many other quirky creatures.”
These mug forms include yellow bumble bees, black bats and a collection of barnyard animals. Her fans on Instagram originally helped name them, but she has also started naming them herself, tending toward alliteration. For example, her pieces include Evelyn the Elephant, Genevieve the Giraffe and Brandon the Bat.
Although it’s hard to play favorites, Yu says she is partial to Cthulhu, “the eponymous fictional creature from H.P. Lovecraft’s story of ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ which describes an incomprehensible horror that incites chaos in the world. But my version of Cthulhu is a cute half-bat, half-octopus creature that attracts happiness in a chaotic way.”
Yu describes her style as “kawaii,” which is generally identified as simple characters with minimal features, rounded edges and youthful appearances, such as Hello Kitty and Pikachu. Many of her pieces resemble animals or imaginary creatures.
“My kawaii style comes from years of watching anime and cartoons as a child,” she said.
She volunteered at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding as a teenager in China, which inspired her love for wild animals.
“I went to boarding school at a young age and came to the U.S. when I was 16 for college,” she said. “When I was by myself, I was afraid of the dark and what monsters might be lurking there. One day, I stumbled upon ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ in a bookstore. In order to cope with my fear, I started to ‘cutify’ the monsters I imagined under my bed. I imagined them to be scraggly, clumsy beings under my bed, which makes them more lovable than scary. I believe that shows throughout my ceramic work and makes it special.”
Although the inspiration for her creations began years ago, it was more recently that she began learning pottery from the Fifth Street Studio in Bentonville. “It was 2021, and I felt a bit disconnected with people having been in quarantine during the COVID lockdown,” she said. “I wanted to find a way to get out of the house and do something with my hands. I fell in love with pottery and have been making ceramics ever since.”
Yu says she loves the pottery community she has found. “I get to meet people from different fields, backgrounds and stages of life, yet we all share a similar passion,” she said. “There’s just so many things to explore in ceramics that everyone brings their own style into. My favorite part of being in the studio is chatting with people and looking at the shelves with everyone’s work. It’s inspiring.”
It also helps her unwind from her day job as a forensic investigator, which she says demands a lot of attention and is emotionally taxing. “Pottery is my way of escaping and focusing on the movement of the clay without thinking of the outside world,” she said. “When I am in my pottery studio, I lose track of time and forget to eat. I love the flow state pottery allows me to be in.”
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