This post is sponsored by the American Craft Council.
In the February/March issue of American Craft, the American Craft Council’s award-winning, bi-monthly magazine, editor in chief Monica Moses and her team focus on tablescapes created with beautifully designed ceramic pieces. Their goal in presenting the story was to highlight the joys of handmade tableware, setting the tone for occasions as ordinary as a morning cup of tea or as elaborate as a 10-person dinner party.
One ceramist imagines her tumblers as part of a morning ritual. Another wants the “stubborn physicality” of his pots to slow people down and make them pay closer attention to each moment. Whatever the motivations for their work, the three artists interviewed here exemplify the wide range of ceramists making tableware today. Some make pieces that are spare in their aesthetic; others decorate lavishly. In every case, however, they see their pots adding social and emotional richness to everyday life. With that in mind, we present three place settings meant to be enjoyed through use, with a bit about the artists who made them.
Primal: Joseph Pintz
Joseph Pintz started making pots in college, nearly 20 years ago, while studying anthropology. His material of choice is a clay usually used to make bricks, giving his work a real sense of weight, with an industrial edge. In September, Pintz took a leave from his position as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri for a yearlong residency in Roswell, New Mexico.
What drives you to make your work? I am drawn to making functional pottery because of its close relationship with food. Even in our fast-paced culture, tableware continues to play an important role in life’s daily rituals.
What do you think is unique about what you make? I make straightforward vessels that are handbuilt from coarse, red brick clay. The unadorned forms allow the food to be the highlight.
How do you imagine your work being used? Do you have particular occasions in mind as you work? I make work for everyday use. My pots have a stubborn physicality; their mass forces the user to slow down and pay closer attention to the moment.
What is your ideal gathering around a table? My ideal gathering around the table includes friends, family, homemade food, and handmade pottery. The food would be simple and lovingly made, featuring fresh, local produce that captures the essence of the season.
Narrative: Diana Fayt
Diana Fayt has been making functional pottery for nearly 30 years. She works from her San Francisco studio using a process she calls “etching in clay” to layer her handbuilt or slip-cast pieces with original imagery and color.
What drives you to make your work? I am a compulsive creative. I can’t help myself; I love to work in many mediums – sketching, printmaking, painting. Ultimately, clay is home for me, though; so even when I’m not working in clay, it’s what I’m thinking about.
What do you think is unique about what you make? I use form as a canvas to illustrate and tell my personal stories, which are often about my own life, travels, or other people’s stories. Most recently my stories have been about my mother and mushroom-foraging adventures, and how she was taught by her mother to find mushrooms. I find mushroom hunting both romantic and terrifying. It’s like hunting for treasure, but one bad one could kill you. I love the tension between those two emotions, so I’ve been drawing quite a bit of fungi lately, and they’re showing up on my work.
How do you imagine your work being used? Do you have particular occasions in mind as you work? Some works I want to be enjoyed simply as an object and not used. Others, like my tumblers, I hope will be a part of someone’s everyday morning ritual.
What pot do you find yourself using most often in your own life? My assortment of handmade cups and tumblers made by fellow potter friends. I use them all, daily.
Refined: Paul Eshelman
For more than 30 years, Paul Eshelman has been making pottery. Since 1988, he and his wife, Laurel, have run Eshelman Pottery in Elizabeth, Illinois, a small farming community. His work is slip-cast in red stoneware using plaster molds and topped with thick, color-rich glazes.
What drives you to make your work? I love practicing careful craftsmanship.
What do you think is unique about what you make? In the world of clay, my work sits way over on the tight, clean end of the continuum. Because my pieces are first defined in plaster, they have forms and surfaces that speak of a hard material, shaped and finished, rather than a soft, plastic material.
How do you imagine your work being used? In my mind’s eye, I see my pots integrated into normal daily life serving food and drink, humanizing those activities.
What is your ideal gathering around a table? The best meals for me are the big family dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Our table is filled with four generations enjoying each other and sharing food served in a variety of beautiful pots.
What pot do you find yourself using most often? I own a broad collection of cups and mugs made by many different potters. Most recently, I have enjoyed evening tea using a newly acquired Andy Brayman cup, served from a Yixing teapot.
Photos by Mark LaFavor. To see work by more tabletop ceramists, visit craftcouncil.org/magazine/article/ready-serve or pick up the lush February/March issue of American Craft at your local newsstand.