The whole world in her hands | July 6, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - July 6, 2007

The whole world in her hands

Ceramic artist to show her miniature wares at Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival

by Elizabeth Obreza

Andrea Fabrega's fingers don't get as muddy as most ceramic artists' do.

However, with the help of such tools as a root canal reamer and a "corndog" sponge — which looks like an oblong sponge on a stick — her fingers create 1-and-a-half-inch tall vessels that hold their own with their larger counterparts.

The only way to make a ceramic "statement in a small space," says Fabrega, is to "get the fingers out of the way."

In her Menlo Park home studio, Fabrega sits in front of an electric pottery wheel on her saddle-shaped chair, working only the very tip of a clay mound. The mirror opposite the artist helps her position her tools on the clay and have a better perspective of the pot's development. Fabrega has spent hours in this hunched position preparing to sell her tiny wares at the upcoming 15th annual Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival.

After nearly 20 years of working in miniature ceramic form, Fabrega knows what reactions to expect from passersby at the festival. Someone usually says, "You must have small hands" or "Let me see your hands."

Fabrega, whose art is inspired by the doll world she loved as a child, also quotes a compliment in disguise: "My friends Barbie and Ken would really like your work."

Fabrega made her first tiny pots when she was 14. When it was time to prepare for college, though, "I put away the art side of me (because) I had to get serious," said Fabrega, who received her bachelor's in economics from Carnegie Mellon University.

After a few years of being "dissatisfied with every job I had," Fabrega said, she asked herself an unusual career question: "What was it that I really loved when I was little?"

This led Fabrega to a remembrance of her love for "making tiny things," which began with making small silver pots and doll furniture.

Now "I'm trying to distill the essence of a big pot in a tiny space," Fabrega said. Most of her signature ceramic works are miniatures of the ancient Greek, Chinese, Japanese, German, Islamic and Korean vessels she admires.

For example, she loves ancient Greek terra cotta vessels. Though terra cotta particles are too coarse to throw on a pottery wheel, she throws accurate forms of these Greek vessels from very fine porcelain and then glazes them with a slip (liquid clay) made of terra cotta particles.

"I master forms and styles across countries and periods and then choose what I want to do for my own work," Fabrega said. She said she has incorporated leaves, gourds, dragons and the "entire animal kingdom" into these ancient forms.

Diane Master, producer of the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, believes that Fabrega's vision is meticulous and historically accurate.

"Her commitment to accuracy is unparalleled," Master said. "Andrea is the best of the best." Fabrega has participated in the Clay and Glass festival nearly every year of its existence.

Fabrega's work hasn't grown taller than two inches since she began, but her ceramic miniature technique and vision has developed significantly. She has perfected her glazes, designed her own kiln with the help of an Australian professor, and accumulated many, many tools, some which only prove their usefulness years after she buys them.

One of these tools is a tiny wheel edged with teeth attached to a wooden handle. Fabrega discovered that using it on firm clay to make indentations would make the glaze "pool" and nuance a pot's coloring.

Almost three years ago Fabrega began transforming her miniature pots into human faces. "I wasn't an artist until I could sculpt the human face," she said, reflecting on the great interpreters of the human form such as Michelangelo and Leonardo.

"I don't have a plan for who comes out of the pot," Fabrega says as she admires her translucent shelf of ethnically diverse tiny ceramic faces. She gives noses, chins, eyes and mouths to these tiny pots.

A delicate face of an Asian female is particularly intriguing to Fabrega, who has decided that the slight bulge in the figure's neck is beautiful and not an imperfection as she initially thought.

Fabrega will be selling her miniature pots and faces at the Palo Alto Clay and Glass festival, but she is most excited about selling her "miniature pot pendants," her most recent effort to "translate the (miniature) pot idea into something more mainstream," she said. Though she's attracted a lot of interest in her work, many people hesitate before buying a piece, asking, "What am I going to do with it?'" Fabrega said.

To make the more-accessible version of the porcelain miniature, Fabrega flattens out a tiny pot using a square of plywood and then blows air into it with a straw to perfect its contour.

After firing the pot upside down on a stake and glazing it with the help of a diamond grabber, which looks like a mechanical pencil with three retractable metal prongs, Fabrega hangs it on a cord or on a silver chain. One necklace is a Picasso-inspired vessel of a "tiny pot lady holding an even tinier pot," she said. She thinks the vessel necklace looks best with a leaf or blade of grass resting in the vessel's flattened lip.

Most would assume that the creator of such small and intricate clay-workings must be patient, but Fabrega insists, "I'm not a patient person."

Still, she said, "I love the technical challenge (of making tiny pots)."

In fact, the most difficult aspect of making ceramic miniatures is creating a glaze that is the perfect thickness and the "right marriage of glaze to pot," Fabrega said. A glaze that is too thin will look dry and a glaze that is too thick will obscure the ceramic piece's details.

Overall, success in ceramic miniatures requires "work and sticking to your vision," Fabrega said.

Her labor of love is "all about proportions," she said. "Somehow I express how much I love something by presenting it in miniature because I really get to know it and understand it."

Though Fabrega's work is tiny, she believes "tiny differences make a big impact."


What: The 15th Annual Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival will show and sell artwork from some 180 clay and glass artists. Ceramic workshops will also be available. Proceeds benefit the Association of Clay and Glass Artists and the Palo Alto Art Center.

Where: The Palo Alto Art Center at 1313 Newell Road

When: July 7 and 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free.

Info: Call the Palo Alto Art Center at 650-329-2366 or go to For information about Fabrega's work, go to


Like this comment
Posted by Trinity Gelleher
a resident of Woodside
on Jul 7, 2007 at 10:23 am

Didn't this same story run in the San Jose Mercury News? Is the Weekly reprinting stories?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2007 at 4:04 pm

This was a wonderful festival. The only drawback was that there was only one food booth and a very long line. More food and more seating would have been great, but the amount of shade was lovely. I have been to many festivals and always there is no shade for the visitors, but not here. It was a very pleasant stroll and I did manage to buy three pieces.

Like this comment
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jul 9, 2007 at 9:06 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Trinity Gelleher -

To your question, the Mercury and the Weekly both ran stories on Andrea Fabrega, the "miniatures" artist who was featured in last weekend's Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. Ours was written by reporter Elizabeth Obreza. The Merc's was written by one of its reporters. Often, newspapers will cover the same event, given its interest to the community and news value.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.