October 16, 2023
Cate Be, a remarkable ceramic artist from Moreno Valley (colloquially known as Inland Empire), embodies a spirit of resilience and a profound connection to her heritage. Born in the heart of Los Angeles, Cate’s family background is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
Cate’s father, a survivor of the Cambodian civil war, faced unimaginable challenges as a child. Fleeing the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime, he was sent to Indonesia to avoid becoming a child soldier. Later, he had to assume a new identity to escape to the United States, as France had closed its borders to refugees. After a long and arduous journey, he reunited with his mother and sister whom he was separated from, in Los Angeles. His father died in the Killing Fields.
Cate’s mother, originally from El Salvador, had her own journey of leaving her homeland. Having never married her mother, her father had relocated to the States. While visiting his daughter at her mother’s home, he took her in the late ’60s without her mother’s consent. Living with her father in the States gave her a new life: years of physical abuse, sexual assault, and trauma until she ran away from home at 17.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Cate and her family encountered gentrification that forced them to move to the Inland Empire, resulting in lengthy daily commutes to maintain work and education. Her half-uncle and grandmother moved in to help. History repeated itself as Cate endured years of physical and sexual abuse from family. She was forced out of her parent’s home and has suffered from violence and sexual assault outside of the home. She found solace in school, music, and nature.
Cate’s academic journey and musicianship led her to earn several degrees from Riverside City College (RCC), a demonstration of her determination. Her passion for environmental causes led her to co-chair an environmental committee at RCC, advocating for composting and waste diversion practices as well as recycling.
This passion led Cate to true Northern California; surrounded by the majestic redwoods, her love for nature flourished. As an undergraduate of Humboldt State, she majored in Ecological Restoration, earned a minor in Botany, a second minor in Watershed Management, and one course shy of a third minor in Soil Science. On weekends she yearned for restoration projects in the region. She found herself building a community of like-minded individuals who yearned for the same.
Under Cate’s leadership, the Natural Resources Club at Humboldt State grew significantly, expanding its reach within the community. Her dedication saw the club engaging in invasive plant removal, building salmon habitat, native plant propagation, and more. She led and completed her senior capstone of removing 50+ years of invasive ivy growth that surrounded the Natural Resources building, introduced biodiversity through native planting, and orchestrated multiple organizations and groups to collaborate despite her advisors believing she couldn’t. Her project has been utilized as a successful working model since her departure from the school.
Post-graduation, Cate embarked on a unique path. She applied to the Peace Corps to complete a 2-year project in Cambodia. Amid the process, she was gifted a 10-week course to learn how to wheel-throw pottery. Due to unforeseen circumstances, her departure date for Cambodia was withdrawn. She applied to another post-graduate program with AmeriCorps, and this too was no longer an option due to restructuring. Both of these unexpected setbacks affected Cate’s mental health. She leaned into pottery because of its therapeutic tactile impact. Cate was a performing musician for over a decade, which was her therapy and savior during a challenging upbringing. She left it all behind the year she was forced out of her home. Learning this new skill with clay rekindled her passion for self-expression and ignited a new journey of healing.
As Cate honed her skills in this new medium, she posted her makings on social media – sharing her life in this way has always been an outlet. This kind of content however garnered her unexpected notice. Her detailed carved illustrations drew enthusiasts and admirers alike. Her mycology motifs on mugs gained significant attention, fostering a growing following. By 2016, her audience reached 10,000, increasing demand for her work. By 2017, Cate decided to pursue ceramics full-time. Through her art she openly discussed her experiences with mental health challenges, connecting with others facing similar difficulties. Today she has a following of nearly 70,000.
Cate’s positive affirmations and “Self Loving Badass” mantra mugs inspired many during her early years, and her art became a medium for mental health advocacy. Despite recent business challenges, she remains authentic, diversifying her offerings to encompass her passions like linocut block printing, candle-making, and concocting a range of herbal medicinal tonics & elixirs.
Cate’s creations are an amalgamation of all she’s opened her heart to. This ranges from botany, wildlife, and mycology, to sexual health/awareness, identity, and self-care/love. While she experimented with Japanese-inspired designs for a local festival, she seeks to embrace cultural elements more deeply in the future.
As a Board of Directors and Secretary for the Arcata Chamber of Commerce, Cate passionately supports local small businesses. Her love for astrology, garden volunteering, and her dog Hachiko (named after the iconic loyal Japanese Akita), showcases her deep appreciation for celestial and earthly connections.
Cate’s journey is an exemplification of the human spirit’s resilience and the power of art to heal and inspire. Her story continues evolving, marked by her unwavering commitment to authenticity, honesty, and craft.