Moni's Angels


“I am good with clay, I’m not that good with words,” is one of the first things out of Moni McKee’s mouth when asked about her love of ceramics.

She molds a variety of seasonal fare out of clay, from whimsical angels to bunnies, and birds that evoke a certain memory or occasion out of a small workshop in Ridgeland.

She just got done with a batch of items for Halloween but she is known mostly for her Christmas creations like Santas and Nativity pieces and of course, her famous angels, which are made one-by-one, no two alike.

“Each one is an individual,” McKee said.

She started making ceramics 36 years ago. The angels came sometime after she found herself having to produce a line of holiday-themed ceramics in a crunch.

“Never thought I would say I have been doing it for that long but people keep buying them so I keep making them,” McKee said.

McKee discovered in community college that she loved working with clay and ceramics. She went on to finish at Mississippi University for Women.

“I realized in college that I enjoyed working with clay,”she said. “Since then clay has been my thing. It’s my life, my passion, my work, my income.”

It is a craft she has perfected. For round snowmen or a big Santa belly, she may use a pottery wheel, but the angels are more free form. She starts with a 25-pound block of clay delivered to her studio in Ridgeland.

“The hardest part might be getting the clay from the street to in the door,” Moni said.

Using a wire, she cuts a sheet off of the block between an inch and an inch and a half thick. That sheet is then flattened, trimmed and rolled into a freestanding cone. McKee said she usually gets between four and five sheets off of a block, representing about that many larger angels, but that there is a large amount trimmed off and leftover that becomes a variety of other projects.

Next, detail is added to the cone. Arms, wings, heads and other details are fashioned from a bucket of soft clay. A lot of time is spent fine-tuning the expressions. McKee does not work off molds or patterns and said after she pinches the clay a few times, an expression starts to take shape and becomes a guide for the rest of that angel or figure.

This is just the beginning of a lengthy process. She said ceramics then sit outside, often overnight before going into the kiln, that gets up at least 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The oven is its own matrix of complication. She said it usually runs on low the evening before she is going to put some figures in. The temperature is steadily raised to its high temperature before the figures go in. After the figures cook it can take a whole day before it is cooled down properly again and she can start the process over.

She said this step is the most tricky. While decades of experience have helped her develop a system for consistency she said sometimes she will open the kiln and find a Santa with his head blown off. It is still a delicate enough process that mistakes do happen.

She said a year or two ago she had a batch of animals, probably for a nativity scene, she wanted to finish for a big show.

“I don’t remember why I was so set on finishing I think it was a bunch of donkeys but I probably put them in way too early,” she remembered. The next time she checked on them they had all shattered.

“There have certainly been some losses,” McKee said.

But once the figures make it out of the oven safely the final touches are put on. McKee decorates and paints her figures. Aqua and pink make frequent appearances, though McKee does not like to limit herself to repeating designs, colors and patterns. Angels consistently get a gold touch. Gold paint and leaf add an extra pop of celestial detail. McKee will even enlist a group of friends to help her paint a batch before a big show.

McKee’s work can be found at a variety of local shops. She also likes to “hit the shows” including Mistletoe, Handworks and the Chimneyville Arts Festival. Locally she supplies Persnickety with ceramics, usually about three weeks before Christmas.

"I really cannot keep up with demand and places always run out but I have been up late the night before Christmas Eve trying to finish some figures to take to Persnickety before Christmas," McKee said.

She said it is her relationship with these shops, events and customers that gives her work a lot of its satisfaction and meaning.

"Other than the satisfaction I get from my work I really love the customers and their reactions to my work. I enjoy the fact that they love my work. When I started out I did not anticipate that these things would mean so much to a customer,” McKee said.

Moni McKee has two grown children and six grandchildren. Her son, Jon Nowell, lives in Norway with his wife and two children. Her daughter, Nicole, lives in Ridgeland with her husband and their four children.

She can be contacted by email at