When I pull out one of my porcelain bowls from the kiln, it fits perfectly in my cupped hands. `Hello,' I whisper, `welcome to the world.' It’s thin and translucent, now sitting next to the milk bottles and lanterns, real and realized. Somehow, I am a ceramist. This is new.
For 17 years I was a magazine editor and writer. I wrote, edited, styled, and brainstormed. I found summer produce in the middle of winter, produced "parties" in real-peoples’ homes that we could shoot as if they were impromptu gatherings. Seven years ago I lost my last in-house publishing job, and then the well went dry. The final axe came down the day Iwas supposed to sign the contract on the home I was buying.
Hundreds of resumes and two years later, I remained unemployed. Knowing I’d studied art in college, a friend asked me to join her ceramics class. I hadn't gone near a potter's wheel since 1987, but reluctantly agreed.
This is the story I am asked to tell again and again, the story of “reinventing” myself. The tale of my mid-life crisis: how I sat down that first night in the ceramic studio and threw a bowl without thinking. Like riding a bicycle, driving a stick shift, having sex. Now I remembered, breathing, this is what it feels like. So I threw another, and another, the clay feeling familiar again between my hands. From that first night, like a high-school crush, clay became my obsession. Open hours at this studio found me hunched over that wheel, playing hooky from my mind-numbing data-entry temp job. At night, trying to fall asleep, I’d design vessels and dinnerware lines in my head.
Rediscovering clay felt like I imagined finding religion would feel, and I had to chase the dream. I found space in a group studio on Hope Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and bought 100 pounds of porcelain.
In very short order my work was being recognized, and the pieces I made were everywhere. Vases and votives were selling like crazy, I couldn't keep any bowls in stock. Ego in hand, I moved from my group studio to a solo space in a turn-of-the-century industrial building, a long block from the Hudson river. I bought a kiln and set up my own studio, then watched the economy tank. So.
Every day I go to studio make things. It would seem that I found myself by making things. Even when nobody is buying anything and I spend part of each day trying to figure out how to pay the rent for my studio, I know that I am good at this. I am good at this. For the first time, I am good at this. Of all the creative things I have done in my life, this is where I shine. I know this because I used to be really bad at it: I hated nearly all the artwork I did in college. My thesis project, a brightly colored clay sculpture, sits in boxes in my mom's basement. It’s really, really ugly, and she will not let me throw it away.
These days, along with a few small writing/editing gigs—yes, I am available!--I make vases and bottles and lanterns. I make things that I like, that I’d have in my own home. But of everything I’ve made, I have a clear favorite: my lanterns. They’re cast porcelain, made from molds of antique canning jars. The porcelain’s so thin that a tiny votive makes them glow, and they represent to me a culmination of both careers: as a stylist and décor pro, I’ve always chosen all-white palettes. As an editor, I lit up tableswith candles in vintage jars. Now, I marry that object with white porcelain. They shine, they are mine. I am home.
photo credit: the immensely talented jennifer sliker, for laboratory creative