Hand-maker and artist Jill Zeidler

Jill Zeidler, one of few ceramic artists in Big Sky, picked up artwork as a child from her grandmother. Thanks to her elders, she always had her hands in something. With teenagers at Lone Peak High School now, Zeidler recognizes how art is turning away from the tangible to the digital.

Jill grew up as a child in New York. She went to college about an hour and a half south of the Grand Canyon at Northern Arizona University. She then exchanged the high desert and ponderosa pines of the desert for southwestern Montana. Through a national student exchange program, which provides transfers from the U.S., Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Island to college students, Zeidler moved to Montana State University (MSU) in 1995-1996.

While in college pursuing a BFA in ceramics, Zeidler fell into the company of two stellar professors. Ellen Tibbets was a river rat turned ceramic artist who relocated from the Midwest to Four Corners. “Ellen was my first ceramic teacher. She got me into the ceramic's vibe. She was so down to earth. She really kind of sealed the deal for me in my first ceramics class,” explained Zeidler.

Rick Pope was another mentor and teacher who had a large impact on Zeidler’s love for ceramics. Pope taught at MSU from 1975-2008. “He was a fun-loving teacher with a great sense of humor. He’d always read to us in our classes,” said Zeidler.

Zeidler’s time at MSU changed her path. She met Tyler, who would go on to become her husband, during the exchange program. After graduating from the University of Northern Arizona in 1998, Jill set out to show her creations in fine art galleries. She collected things. She built tall sculptures like canyons. She picked up driftwood while roaming creeks and rivers.

Due to the economic recession around 2008, Zeidler’s career shifted. She decided to switch things up because people were not buying from fine art galleries and it was difficult to make a living. She leaned into a line of functional wear—things like bowls, vases, vessels, mugs, and cups. These practical items, often used to outfit a home, are her most popular pieces now. Zeidler’s ceramics turned into a thriving small business.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Zeidler decided on a similar practical approach. “I was saying yes to everything. They [the clients] were nesting and it really set me up for a busy and successful year,” explained Zeidler. “I’ve been making my art here for 20 something years and the community has supported me. They have watched me grow. They have really been a staple in my career—a building block. I would love to give props to Barbara Rowley. She’s come up with so many ideas. I’ve taught classes. She really supported afterschool ceramics in middle school and high school,” said Zeidler.

As opposed to other ceramic artists, Zeidler does not use a wheel. She cuts slabs of clay into pieces and stitches them together. In her studio, down by the junction of 191 and 64, Zeidler likes to listen to podcasts and soak in the natural light while overlooking the West Fork. “The activity is always clicking away in my brain. I’m always writing stuff down... There is a really good podcast right now called, ‘Up and Vanished.’ He [Payne Lindsey] just did a series on missing indigenous women,” said Zeidler.

Outside of her art, Jill enjoys Nordic skiing and is excited about the new BASE community center. Asked what the biggest challenge in our lifetime will be, Jill believes it will be climate change. “I am not afraid to say it,” said Zeidler. Zeidler’s decided to take the year off to get back to her roots and work on creative projects. Her studio next to Café 191 will remain open through the winter from Wednesday to Friday from 11-3 p.m. 

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