I was born and grew up in Maryland in the suburbs north of Washington, D.C. We’d go to the Smithsonian regularly — I always wanted to go to the National Gallery of Art. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to follow my interests, and by middle school, I was working on television programs and learning video production. I still have a foot in the documentary film world, working on social justice-oriented projects. Growing up just outside of the Beltway, I am regularly contemplating how politics affect our lives.
Recently, my mother sent me a photo of two ceramic pieces that I made in summer camp when I was in elementary school — a little red dinosaur and a coil-built basket. I have a vague memory of making that coil pot. It’s funny, it wasn’t an experience that I felt was especially meaningful for me, though years later, after a lot of growth and experience, I like looking at these pieces as now that practice of working with clay has become central to my life. Today, I make a line of functional ceramics called Little Bear Pots from my home and studio based in Red Hook, Brooklyn — a neighborhood filled with boxy warehouses, roll-top gates and uneven cobblestone streets.
It’s that intimate feel on your lips as you sip your coffee in the morning, or how that planter on your desk constantly draws you back to the natural world.
Here, I am drawn to making creations people can use in their everyday lives. We, unfortunately, regularly surround ourselves with industrially produced objects, such as those for eating and drinking which eventually end up in landfills or floating in the oceans. Things made in factories are often bought to be disposable; we think of them as things that will eventually become abandoned, even as we first purchase them. Things made by hand with love for craftsmanship and design, however, are brought into our lives because we feel a connection to the object. Craft reminds us that objects should be loved as personal tools for our daily lives. It’s an extraordinarily humbling task to make things for people to cherish and view as things meant to be kept.
When I first started making ceramics, I drew a lot of inspiration from indigenous ceramics traditions, particularly those of West Africa and Central America. Some of that inspiration is still evident in my work, demonstrated in my love of shifting triangular designs and black-and-white surface decorations. Over the past few years, I’ve been drawn more to my direct surroundings — the overlapping squared-off textures of the city blocks surrounding me — brick row house next to a smooth-steel building, with textures and colors in direct contrast, along with squares, stripes, and triangles facing off against simple tower shapes with concrete-like textures. Recently, I’ve been exploring more combinations of rough, pockmarked textures with animalistic spines.
I am fortunate to have my studio space at Supersmith — a warehouse that has been converted into a workshop for craftspeople. When I walk out of my studio, I’m on a catwalk that overlooks a full-service woodworking area, a metal shop, and private studios with people working with 3D printers and poured concrete. People are working in nearly every media here — from leather to jewelry to furniture to lamps to toy prototypes. It is invaluable to be among this community of makers. I have no idea how to do what many of these makers do, and they have no idea (generally) about ceramics, but process discussions aside, I regularly chat with these friends about the projects we’re working on. The scene here has a real tip-of-the-hat to quality craftsmanship with forward-thinking design concepts, and I’m endlessly grateful to call these folks my creative community.
Sharing and documenting my work digitally, translating clay work into photography, can be a challenge because my work is so tactile, and I like to think of each piece as something to be held. That aside, Instagram, in particular, has been invaluable for finding shows, selling work and keeping in touch with fellow makers. For better or worse, our social media posts have become digital business cards and a platform for showing our personalities behind our work. I love the opportunity to be able to bring people into my process as well as see what other potters I idolize are up to.
It’s definitely a beast that constantly needs feeding, but also an easy way to track change, growth and transformation.
Craft shows and markets scattered throughout the year also let me introduce new ideas and see how my customers react to them, which then influences which objects end up in my wholesale line every year. I also go to conferences and visit the studios of my friends to see what they’re up to. The amazing work being produced around me inspires and pushes me to think up new twists on what to make — I try to put in a few new ideas into every single kiln load to keep things fresh.
Since most of my business is wholesale to small boutiques, I do end up spending a majority of my time making the same things over and over again in sets. Against obvious assumptions, this does not burn me out — I love making sets of the same things and watching how a misplaced line changes each piece and lends it a unique personality. The repetition is also completely meditative. A while ago, a friend told me a story about a painter she worked for as an apprentice, and how he made her make little tiny dots with paint on a canvas every day, all day. The lesson taught was you have to be comfortable with and enjoy the small, repetitive movements of the work you create. The small dots are just as important as the larger picture. I think about this daily and try to find enjoyment in every step of making, and it’s those low-level joys that keep me consistently excited about making things.
Currently, I teach intermediate wheel throwing at Artshack, an amazing nonprofit community space that provides everyone a space for creativity in their lives. In those classes, I come across dozens of people every week who are trying to find new ways to express themselves. Ceramics is a great entry into scratching that creative itch — a ball of clay can be built in an infinite number of ways into an infinite number of designed objects. It is tactile — you can get your hands dirty, and connect to a shape in a visceral and meaningful way, and then incorporate that object back into your daily life. Whatever the medium you choose, there can be so much frustration in learning new skills, and like all things in life, the answer is always “make it again and make it better.” Being a potter is an endurance sport, and my biggest accomplishment is getting back in the studio every day and working away at turning boxes of clay into functional objects.
“Women who have diamonds, it can’t touch the joy and excitement
of opening a kiln.”
— Beatrice Wood