The Artful Life of Irma Starr

At home in her Kansas City studio this year, Irma Starr works on a commemorative plate for Kansas City Life Insurance Company’s 125th-anniversary celebration.

Ceramicist Irma Starr Fashions Objects of Good Cheer

For decades, highly imaginative designs have poured out of Irma Starr’s Kansas City home studio in artworks reflecting our cultural heritage. While museums and collectors commission her ceramics from around the world, here in Kansas City we treasure how optimistically she brings to life clay and pigment to celebrate local traditions. With joyful curiosity, Starr’s replicas of art and architecture, her ornaments, pendants, key chains and coffee cups, statues and commemorative plates celebrate familiar and traditional objects.

When she graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1979, Starr began a decades-long relationship with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She says that her KCAI teacher, the legendary ceramicist Ken Ferguson, “taught you to craft with your whole soul, with your whole being.” She credits Ferguson with the lasting sense of perfectionism in her craft, a focus on detail that has pleased curators over decades at the Nelson-Atkins, where she has been repeatedly commissioned to replicate artworks for sale at the Museum Shop. Starr has focused especially on the museum’s Burnap collection of 17th-century English slipware pottery and has become expert in techniques from that period, such as sculpting detail with liquid clay, called slip; marbling, which involves movement of the whole body; and feathering, which applies slip with a white goose feather.

Hillary Clinton once lauded Starr for making one of the then First Lady’s favorite White House Christmas tree ornaments. Starr has been contracted three times by the Smithsonian Institution for large-scale commemorative plates.

Collectors and businesses commission her works for a wide range of celebrations and holidays. Each Christmas season, Halls department store features a newly designed Irma Starr tree ornament. For four decades Starr has crafted reproductions of artwork from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Her renderings of the museum’s large-scale Shuttlecock sculptures, incorporated in housewares and jewelry, are sought-after collectibles. Irma Starr’s designs appear in art collections, stores, businesses and homes around us, reflecting an image of our cultural heritage with a combination of sweetness, skill and imagination that we love to see as our own.

Leave a Reply