Monday, September 27, 2010

Sandi Dihl 1953-2010

Right before my husband and I left for Belgium, I received word that my former boss and mentor, ceramic artist Sandi Dihl of Santa Cruz, California, died a few days before after being hospitalized for a week. She had been ill and diagnosed with a terminal disease, but I was unaware of this. It made me feel very sad that I was not able to say good-bye or offer her any comfort at the end of her life. I was even more troubled because I had been thinking of her and wanting to stop in for a visit, but did not have the chance to do so before she died.

I was still a beginner student when Sandi hired me as an assistant in 1994. I often think of the strange coincidence that brought me to her. I was a member of a gym where I struck up a random conversation with another member, who told me she was helping a friend with glazing her pottery. "Really? I would love to do something like that!" I said to this person, who was not as enamored with pottery as I was. She introduced me to Sandi, and I soon had a job that saw me through the next two years as I finished my education in Anthropology at UCSC.

Working for Sandi had as many rewards as it did challenges, and our relationship could be in sister-like harmony or fraught with tension, depending on the day. Sandi was generous, demanding, tempestuous, exacting, and often unpredictable in her moods. Her studio sometimes had the aura of a sorority house with afternoon glasses of wine and giggling stories about her past; other times the grim feel of a factory work floor as we churned out her trademark "wishkeepers" and she reproached herself--and me--with criticism and fault-finding when she found her work to be less than satisfactory.

Sandi was my first model of a self-supporting ceramic artist, and I soaked up every aspect of her achievements so I could create it for myself. Her shortfalls were just as important to my education, and I often joked that working for Sandi made me learn what not to do as much as what to do. The most lasting thing I learned from Sandi was the importance of generosity in the ceramics business: paying employees as well as you can afford, sharing techniques and tricks with others, and encouraging emerging artists as she did me. I would simply not be where I am today without her support and education.

There have been times over the past 5 years as I have been employing my own assistants that I have fully appreciated the crap Sandi had to deal with when she dealt with me. I was not always an easy employee; I bossed Sandi around, told her how she could do things better, and threw it right back at her when she was critical. I was young and a know-it-all. I often tried her patience and she would have jumped at the chance to paddle me on my bottom on many occasions, but she was very proud of my success and her contribution to it when I moved on to open my own studio.

Sandi's health deteriorated noticeably the last few times I saw her, and this picture below is how I remember her and how she looked when I worked for her: pretty, vital, smiling, and always with her dog, Arrow. Rest in peace, Sandi. I never thanked you enough for what you did for me.


  1. I remember that you talked about how you used to work for her and I looked up her work at some point. So sad that she is gone now but clearly she impacted others...

  2. I'm bothered that her website has already been taken down and there is no way to research her work online right now. Her site should stay up for at least a year.

  3. Very nice remembrance indeed Whit. I think you summed up nicely what it was like working for her... "Sandi was generous, demanding, tempestuous, exacting, and often unpredictable in her moods."

    I can ask Laurel why the site came down.

  4. As usual, you write the truth. What a wonderful tribute as it reads so true to the person Sandi was. I did not realize that her website had been taken down but agree it is a shame that there is no way to see her work on-line.

  5. I was shocked to hear of Sandi's death and loved reading Whitney's words about Sandi. She always had a "story" when I ran the Palo Alto Show, but she was filled with gratitude about so many things in her life. I, too, was bothered to see that her website is down. I went to the site to enjoy images of her work once more.
    You will be missed, Sandi.

  6. Thanks for sharing this- I did not know of her but would love to know more.
    This was a wonderful tribute.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story of Sandi - your blog is how I learned of her passing.

    There's another story,

    In November 2008 I lost my beloved cat Brie. Brie and I had shared 17 years together and I wanted to find the perfect urn for her. While perusing various animal urn sites one had the most gorgeous urn that seemed so completely out of place among all the rest of items they sold. The description stated it was made by a ceramic artist in California.

    I immediately knew this was what I wanted for Brie. It was beautiful and I wanted it to represent how beautiful Brie was to me.

    I ordered the urn and waited to receive it. Months past and nothing. I patiently waited, periodically sending messages to the seller to find out where the urn was. The seller shared that the artist was very sick and so I patiently waited longer. Then the seller told me it was shipped and I should have it .... Nothing. At one point it all seemed a joke to me. I was very upset and told the seller that something that was supposed to be so special for my cat had turned into a some long ordeal, I still did not have the urn and the whole experience had made the lost of my cat even worse.

    Then out of the blue some time later, I received a call from a woman ... she told me she was the artist who makes the piece I had purchased and that she wanted to make everything right. She assured me she was legitimate and directed me to her site. There was the urn I purchased among other beautiful works of art. All incredibly elegant and graceful.

    This was how I came to know Sandi ... she thanked me for listening and being open to her and she absolutely wanted to make this right for me - free of charge. She understood the love we share with our pets and told me of her own pets.

    I thanked her as well for turning my feelings around again to know that the urn I had originally wanted for Brie was to be a thing of joy, connection and sharing from a woman in California to a woman in St Louis.

    She very much wanted to complete this for me. We agreed to work directly with one another. Over the course of the next several months I waited knowing she most likely wasn't feeling well. She would periodically touch base and let me know she was still working on the piece.

    She shared that it had been a rocky road since she thought she was all good, more cancer, in and out of the hospital, surgery and chemo. So even with all this going on for her she still worked to complete Brie's urn. More than a year after I had originally ordered the urn, Sandi did complete Brie's urn.

    I loved her work - I paid her for Brie's urn and had her make me 2 other pieces as well.

    All are beautiful. But the story is one of conviction, determination and caring - wanting to make it right for me and for her.

    She did make it right.

    I am so sorry to hear that she has passed.

    I put my own wish in my wish keeper that she find peace and that her spirit is reunited with her beloved pets as well.

    Most Sincerely,
    St Louis, MO

  8. I knew Sandi and I was very upset to hear this yesterday. I had her work on my website and I have been an admirer of her work for a long time now. She will be missed.

    Thank you for your post -

  9. Thank you for this post. Definitely a poetic tribute to the lady and her craft. I am sorry to read about Sandi's passing. Her art was fabulous and each piece beautiful.

    I am not sure how i found Sandi to begin with, but I had purchased several wish keepers from her over the years but never for myself . . . always as gifts for others. I know they are all treasured by the receivers.

    Like Susan, one of the last pieces I ordered took FOREVER to get delivered. Literally months. Although she didn't communicate the best, it turned out that I had ordered my Wish Keeper just before her father's passing. However, she did finish it although I never got to see it as it was shipped straight to my "been married for almost a year" friends.

    I actually went to purchase a piece for myself tonight and discovered her website was down. Google led me here.

    Thanks again for the post. I'll say a prayer tonight for Sandi Dihl.

  10. Wow, this is so surreal. I found out so late that she passed's almost 2012! I own a small piece of her amazing work. Such a professional and talent. She is an inspiration to me as an artist. My belated condolences to her family.

  11. I never knew Sandi. I am a collector of many things wonderful. I found this incredible piece of pottery at my favorite thrift in San Francisco a few months ago. It sat proudly unidentified, could not make the signature. I found my loop the other day, and tried again to make the signature. It was this website that was my hit to find out who made my darling Wish Keeper (love & happiness). It is tall rectangular, so many details in every detail, a masterwork I always could tell. I will email a picture if you want. I also note that I found the Wishkeeper in San Francisco, but it has returned home to Santa Cruz.

  12. August 2013

    I'm so sorry to read about this, yes, 3 years later. I purchased several of Sandi's pieces around 2000. Then my life hit the skids and all my beautiful objects went into storage. I recently unpacked some things and re-discovered the wish boxes. They are so special. I wanted to know more about the artist and if she is still working. Thank you for posting this, and keeping it "up" for posterity.

    Now that I can once again be surrounded by the things I love, her works are again on prominent display and cherished.