Husband and wife artists Nori Obata and Esteban Prieto have the perfect space to create their glass and ceramic art – a rather nondescript building that sits back by the railroad tracks in Maplewood.
“There’s something about the trains going by that gives you that nostalgic feeling,” Obata said. “It’s a wonderful place to work.”
Obata and Prieto, who share the space and their life’s work, are part of a long history of artists whose work is recognized nationally and internationally. It seems only natural that the two found each other.
“Our families have known one another for generations,” said Obata, a
St. Louis native who met Prieto on the West Coast years ago. Between grandparents, parents and siblings, they count among their family renowned painters, architects, ceramists, designers, fiber artists and more.
Obata, who makes handcrafted glass bead jewelry and porcelain ceramics, and Prieto, whose primary work is blown glass tumblers, have shared their Maplewood studio for close to 20 years. Married for 18 years, with children and stepchildren from previous marriages, the two have made the cinder-block building, which is not far from their home, the cornerstone for their work.
Once a former heating and cooling business, the building became a perfect place to install the furnace used by Prieto for his glass blowing. They can both be found working there six to seven days a week, except in the heat of the summer, when the temperatures can reach up to 120 degrees inside.
When the temperatures rise, the couple head north to Lake Street Studios in Glen Arbor, MI, where Obata continues to make her glass beads and ceramics and Prieto throws pottery. Obata’s mother, a fiber artist, also lives in Michigan and works out of the same studio space.
Now back in St. Louis, Obata and Prieto will be selling their jewelry, porcelain ceramic pieces and glass blown tumblers at the upcoming 20th Annual Best of Missouri Market at the Missouri Botanical Garden between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2. More than 120 Missouri food producers, artists and entertainers will be on hand at this year’s event.
Both artists have had their work on display in the past at Best of Missouri, where they are included by invitation only. In addition, Obata’s work can be found at area festivals and art fairs, and Prieto’s glass tumblers are sold in high-end art galleries from Washington, D.C., to California. Most of the works they make in their Maplewood studio are used to stock the galleries, sell at art fairs and for special orders, such as wedding gifts.
“I have been blowing glass for close to 40 years now,” said Prieto, 64, who described both his work and Obata’s as functional art. “We’re both interested in items that can be used every day and not just one-of-a-kind work, which many artists create.”
Customers who buy Obata’s dishwasher-safe porcelain ceramics in her signature cobalt blue and white use them for their everyday dishes, serving pieces and other uses around the home.
“There is something about using handmade items every day that is really quite lovely,” said Obata, 55, who still uses Japanese bamboo brushes to paint her ceramics, much like her late grandfather, a painter, used. “We’ve been fortunate that our designs have held true, and we’ve been able to make a living doing this.”
Both artists are proud of the influences their family members have passed on to them.
“What you see your parents do in life, you somehow have an introduction to that,” said Prieto, whose parents were both ceramists. “We were lucky to have art in our life.”
Although Prieto also throws pottery, his passion is glass blowing, and he has anxiously been waiting for his furnace to reach the necessary temperature to start work again.
“I’m like a cowboy without a horse,” he said. “Being an artist is a different road to walk, but art is one of those things you keep doing.”
Obata agreed, adding that your art might switch focus over time but you keep contributing.
“It’s really enjoyable when you are doing something that doesn’t feel like work,” she said.
Obata and Prieto will hold open houses every weekend in December from 10 a.m. to 5p.m. Friday through Sunday at their studio located at 3264 Big Bend Blvd.