Shiho Winter has often been thought of in local art circles as “Joe Winter’s plus-one.” But that is changing as people discover the whimsical subjects, rich colors, and distinctive techniques present in her ceramics works, solidifying her as a talented artist in her own right.
Yet she has struggled to see herself this way. A Japanese immigrant who moved to the United States at age 31, in 1999, Shiho grew up believing the notion that being an artist simply wasn’t a career.
“I love art, but I never thought about asking for money before,” she explained. “I was born in 1968, and in my generation in Japan, if someone said, ‘I want to be an artist,’ it means your life will be miserable. My mother was always complaining, ‘You shouldn’t think about that. Art is hobby. You should think about getting money.’”
When Shiho met her husband, Joe, he was in Himeji, Japan, learning pottery under a master potter and residing in the man’s guest house. The two met when he came to eat at her mother’s restaurant, where Shiho was working at the time.
Seeing her interest piqued, he encouraged her to play with the clay and try her hand at making art, even after the two moved home to Nevada, and she enjoyed it, but thought no more of it. “It was something I thought shouldn’t fill my brain,” she said. “I thought, ‘It should be a hobby. I would not sell anything, nobody cares about my art, I don’t have any education, and I don’t even have a driver’s license.’”
Yet she continued to make her art, formed primarily by etching or imprinting images on clay surfaces and adding vivid colors. She sold her first piece, a small clay pendant with a Chinese character etched into it, at her husband’s craft booth at the Nugget Rib Cook-off in 1999. She gave pieces as gifts to friends who requested them and even sold enough work to bring in about $500 a month, but maintained that it should remain a hobby only. In the meantime, she told herself, this was ridiculous; she needed to go to school and then get a “real job.”
Which is what she did. After receiving training as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Shiho went to work for Renown as well as a small facility in California between 2017 and 2019. But still art compelled her to stay in her studio, at their home north of Reno, for hours at a time. Eventually, the decision became obvious—it was time to quit nursing and make art full time. Then came a sign from the universe: the pandemic.
“I came to realize, ‘Maybe this is better than going to work at the hospital,’” she said.
She characterizes her style as dreamy, with its graceful lines and subject matter rooted in the natural world: flowers, leaves, fruits, and vines; hummingbirds drinking from blossoms, whales swimming at sea, turtles hatching from eggs, dragonflies buzzing; celestial bodies; mountains at sunset and other landscapes; or aspects of the human body—feet in slippers, en pointe, for example, or heads replete with curly hair. Fanciful domestic scenes, such as clay dioramas of kitchens like dollhouses (complete with loaves of bread) or a house as a pot for a plant, as well as cityscapes etched into vase surfaces also appear. The etchings often are done with a knife, but occasionally she’ll make imprints with objects—a shell, for instance. She adds greater dimension with small clay pieces sculpted, carved, and attached, projecting outward, becoming part of the bouquet.
Unlike her husband, whose work is intentionally dictated by the chemical effects of the fire on the glaze, Shiho is deliberate about her colors, which are vibrant and deep. “He wants things to happen naturally, but for me, red should be red, and I want the gray next to red. That’s why I never try to color with firing; I want control.”
Her colors are rich, lush, almost as if they were illustrations in a printed book, and this is how she starts, with a design sketched out on paper. The designs are etched freehand into the surface of the clay, most of which is molded by Joe.
The artistic urge is strong in the Winter house. Joe’s daughter from a previous relationship, Jasmine, who is in her late 20s, is a fabric artist who knits and, lately, makes masks. And the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Hiroka, also has embraced it; she began working in clay, like Shiho, but lately has been gravitating toward watercolor. Shiho is intrigued by her daughter’s work and the idea of painting, but despite her success, her old instincts are still strong.
“I don’t know if I have time for another hobby!” she says.
To see more of Shiho’s work, follow her on Instagram or visit Joe Winter’s booth at Romano’s Farmers Market in Beckwourth, California on Fridays and The Village Market Farmers’ Market in Reno on Saturdays throughout the summer.