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Maker Stories

High Society: Elegant Roach Clip Jewelry Designs

April 17, 2015

More than any other word, “roaring” is used to describe the 1920s. But despite the word being synonymous with “boisterous” and “rowdy,” mention of the decade usually conjures images of sophisticated parties, Art Deco, and beautiful women in stylish clothing dancing the Charleston. Sure, the parties may have been fueled by bootlegged booze and a crazy new style of music, but tales of the Jazz Age often leave today’s daydreamers feeling nostalgia for the class and culture of a decade gone by.

Erin Rose Gardner in her studio light | UncommonGoods

Intrigued by the melding of sophistication and excess that made the ‘20s such an interesting time, Erin Rose Gardner created a line of Art Deco jewelry “inspired by the significant changes in lifestyle & culture” of the period. This is a good place to mention that each piece in this collection of elegant designs also serves as a fully functional roach clip.


Mary Jane's Necklace by Erin Rose Gardner | UncommonGoods

One of these significant changes was the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which ushered in prohibition. During the 1920s it was illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport alcohol. Of course, prohibition eventually came to an end when the 21st amendment repealed its predecessor, and now adults across the nation are free to drink gin that didn’t get its kick in a bathtub.

Today the temperance movement against alcoholic beverage seems like the distant past, considering the prevalence of bars and nightclubs across the country, pop culture references to imbibing, and even some evidence that drinking in moderation can actually be good for you.

Erin’s work speaks to a sort of modern prohibition that’s happening now, the war on pot. “The modern prohibition movement is part of the current conversation,” said Erin. “It seems like we may be at the beginning of the end with individual states voting for legalization. I find it interesting to think about how political policies shift social norms.”

Erin working in her studio.
Studying metalsmithing and jewelry at the University of Oregon gave Erin training not only in the technical aspect of her craft, but also foundations in conceptualization and research. “With my work, I am constantly looking for connections and meaning,” she explained. “As a producer of maker-made objects, I want to create things that people find beautiful and well-crafted, but also interesting.”

The layered story of Erin’s Mary Jane’s Necklace and Earrings may seem to start with the style of the ‘20s and a commentary on modern prohibition, but the “connections and meaning” she spoke of go even deeper. In fact, according to Erin, the designs were born from a personal narrative:

It started over ten years ago, I stole my mother’s roach clip. She had not used it in years, but kept it poked into a houseplant as it held sentimental value. As a child I thought this thing was a toy or special pair of medical tweezers. Although I wasn’t sure what it was, I did know this metal thing was special because it was a gift from her sister when they were teenagers. When my parents separated, my mom forgot her roach clip in the plant, so I took it. I lost it within four hours and never told her. (She now knows because my baby sister is a tattletale!)

An online image search lead to a vintage clip that looked like Erin’s mother’s made by a company called Squirkenworks run by furniture artist Garry Knox Bennett. Erin became interested in how the artist questioned the “preciousness” of craft and explored non-traditional materials. Squirkenworks sold electroplated roach clips across the country and still operates today as Gold Seal Plating. “The passive income provided by this business has allowed Bennett the freedom make furniture that pushes boundaries and is not constrained by market expectations,” Erin explained.

Each of Erin’s own clips is completely handmade and features a unique sliding mechanism inspired by the one Garry Knox Bennett invented in the 1960s. (She actually had the opportunity to meet Bennett, discuss her project, and take a look at this collection of clips and other works when she visited him in Oakland, CA last summer.)

Erin's Anvil

Using a hammer and anvil, Erin shapes simple brass rods into elegant contours. “I strive for perfect symmetry and function as I make each individual pendant or earring,” she said. “Each piece features a unique sliding mechanism. Simply pull the slide back and the clip springs open. Then to clip, move the slider forward and the device is tightly secured. The tips are serrated which gives optimal grip.” The brass is transformed again during the final step in the artist’s process, when she polishes each piece and electroplates it with 24k gold.

Erin's Materials
Erin commented that, like “every metalsmith,” she fell in love with the material. It’s easy to see this love, and her dedication to the process, when you look at the detail in each handcrafted piece. The collection appeals not only to those with 1920s fashion sense or fond memories of the roach clips that became popular in the ‘60s. The designs are fully functional for the enjoyment of those in legal territory, statement pieces for marijuana legalization supporters, and—as Erin put it herself—“well crafted, but also interesting” adornments for those looking for high quality, uncommon jewelry.



Erin Rose Gardner | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Maggy Ames

October 10, 2014

Maggy Ames | UncommonGoods

One morning a few weeks ago I woke up extra enthusiastic. I couldn’t wait to get to work. That’s because my work day started with a trip into Manhattan to meet an artist whose work I’d loved since the moment I saw it on our tabletop buyers’ sample shelf. I was going to meet Maggy Ames, the maker of the some of the most beautiful stoneware bowls I’d ever seen.

When I got to Maggy’s space, one of the last working corroborative pottery studios in Manhattan, I was happy to see that she was as enthusiastic about the start of the work day as I was. She was ready to start throwing pottery, but she didn’t mind taking a moment to show me and UncommonGoods Photographer Emily around first. We snuck a peek at the kiln room just in time to see a fresh batch of bowls come out, watched Maggy’s team weigh and prepare clay, caught a glimpse at the secret formulas for a few glaze colors, and admired how the clay dust that seemed to touch everything in the studio made the place even more magical.

After our introductions and a little exploring, we watched as Maggy transformed a large, lumpy ball of clay into an exquisitely curved bowl–something she does about 15 times on an average day. Watching the process was certainly inspiring. Talking with Maggy, who’s been making pottery for 30 years and retired from law to became a full-time artist 5 years ago, gave me a much welcome creativity boost too. Whether you’re looking for little motivation to get making, some inspiring words of wisdom, or just some beautiful photos of art in the works, I hope you’ll love meeting Maggy and seeing her studio as well.

Maggy's Hands

What are your most essential tools?
Fingers and finger memory! When you have to throw dozens and dozens of pieces that must fit precisely together with virtually the same shape and size every single time, you really rely on your fingers to have their own muscle memory and just “do it.” After making literally hundreds of these 3-piece sets over the years, I count on my hands to know their job without my head getting in the way.

Maggy Ames throwing bowls

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
In the kiln room. We have 13 potters in total who work in this studio. Though many of us studied at the same places over the years, we each have a distinct style that comes through. Watching the endless variations — and totally new approaches — of 13 individual artists go through the various stages in our kiln room is endlessly inspiring. I can’t count how many times a week I have an “oh, wow” moment in that kiln room.

Nesting Bowls | UncommonGoods
Nesting Bowls | UncommonGoods

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Our studio has developed into a really supportive clay community. Over the years, we have developed the habit of gathering around the lunch table for downtime, personal interaction, and good old gossip! It is a wonderful benefit that you don’t get if you work in a solo studio.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
You simply must do retail shows before you can do wholesale. You have to watch the customers: What do they pick up? How do they hold it? What are they saying to you? What are they saying to each other when they think you’re not listening? Even after developing my wholesale business, I still do at least two or three retail shows a year so I don’t lose touch with my customers.

Clay tools
Level

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Don’t be afraid of the big leaps. One way or the other you will get it done. You can decide after it is finished whether you liked it enough to do it again. But if you never take the leap, how will you ever know?

In Progress
Mirror

How do you set goals for yourself?
I am trying very hard NOT to set goals for myself. I am in a different position from many younger artists, since I am supposedly retired (big laugh!). I concentrate on only doing what feels right to me at this moment. I don’t know how I will feel about things from year to year, but I know how I feel right now; I don’t want to be locked into any “master plan” and I don’t want to miss any unexpected opportunities that pop up out of nowhere!

Foot Pedal
Scale

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Everything that looks beautiful to me as it comes out of the kiln, everything that comes out fitting perfectly together, every major order that gets out on time — these are all victories of varying degrees and I make it a practice to grab every opportunity to be happy about my work. There are enough challenges in this business, so you have to grab the smiles when they come along.

At the Wheel

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I don’t have a favorite quote, but I have a favorite mantra for myself and for my workers: “Who is using this? Who is using this? Who is using this?” My work is very functional and that is something I take great pride in. My goal in pottery is that customers will experience everyday utilitarian objects as works of fine craft, but that won’t happen if the piece doesn’t fit easily into their routines. Does it feel good in your hand? Does it slide in and out of the oven? Are the edges smooth to the touch? Is it easy to clean? Is it easy to store? In other words, “Who is using this, and how is it working for them?”

Special Handle

How do you recharge your creativity?
MOMA. I never get tired of wandering through [The Museum of Modern Art] and seeing sizes, shapes, colors, lines, styles. The endless things that people do with style is fascinating. It is my idea of a perfect afternoon!

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
In a studio of 13 people collaboration is just sort of a natural by-product. There is always someone looking for an idea as to how to do something, and there is always someone who has an idea how to do it! There are so many wonderful pieces that come out of our kilns that literally could not have been produced without the input, advice, and creativity of others in our clay community.

In the Works
Nesting Stoneware Mixing Bowls | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

A Perfect Design for Your Knitting Nest

September 15, 2014

Aaron A. Harrison | UncommonGoods

The son of an architect father and artist mother, Aaron A. Harrison quickly gravitated towards all things creative. LEGO towers gave way to kindergarten art contest wins, which eventually gave way to an MFA in ceramics and sculpture. Knowing he wanted to play with clay forever, Aaron decided to turn his passion into a career once he started raising a family.

While working in production at a ceramic slip casting company that specializes in bird feeders, birdhouses, and nightlights, Aaron began to shift his focus from artist to designer. “It was here that I learned how to run a production studio,” says Aaron, “making products from clay was preeminent to making clay art.” Working with all the bird-friendly pieces at the studio also fostered an appreciation for the bird form, inspiring Aaron to incorporate the winged creatures into his own designs once he started his own studio in 2009.

Birdie Yarn Bowls | UncommonGoods
Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

On his process, Aaron says, “creativity as a designer follows the need to solve a problem.” In the case of one of his most popular designs, this problem was the unrolling of yarn. After two separate friends asked him if he made yarn bowls, he researched the concept, made some prototypes, literally put a bird on it, and the Birdie Yarn Bowl came to be. Each yarn bowl begins as a ball of clay that is then thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel. Once the bowl firms up, the bird is added, then the hook and holes. After an initial firing and glazing, each bird is painted by hand, then fired one more time to seal it all in.

Painting the Birdie Bowl | UncommonGoods

Aaron works out of his 500 square foot basement, painting each individual bird himself and packing each completed yarn bowl for shipping. “It’s not uncommon to find my children wrapped in bubble wrap or making packing peanut soup for their dolls,” says Aaron of his at-home operation. For inspiration while he works, Aaron keeps drawings from his children around, as well as a LEGO calendar (“my second favorite pastime after ceramics”), and an architectural drawing of an observatory from his father.

Aaron's Studio
Packing the bowls

With all this inspiration by his side, it’s no wonder Aaron’s work has been featured in Knit Simple, Vogue Knitting, and Knit Scene. Though he’s “still waiting for Oprah or Martha Stewart to place their orders,” Aaron gets immense satisfaction from the feedback of others, telling him that his piece inspired them to be more creative. Both this and the opportunity to work from home are the ultimate pay-off. “Sitting at the wheel three to four hours a day, working long into the night to finish an order, and the physical strain of manipulating the clay can take its toll,” says Aaron, “but I am working for myself and I can see my children grow up. In the end, it’s a tremendous blessing and extremely satisfying.”

Buy the Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Barry Rosenthal

June 6, 2014

Barry Rosenthal | UncommonGoods
When our team learned that renowned photographer Barry Rosenthal calls our building, The Brooklyn Army Terminal, home to his studio we couldn’t wait to work with him on a project. Once that project–Pop Top Six Pack Glasses–was ready for our customers’ eyes, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about the set. Learning more about Barry’s work and the creative process that lead to the finished product got me, and the blog team, even more excited about having such a talented artist as a neighbor. Knowing that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out his studio space, our own photographer, Emily, and I made the (very) short journey across the BAT atrium to see where Barry assembles his collections of found artifacts and other objects to create captivating photos.

Join us in exploring a new corner of our building by stepping into Barry Rosenthal’s studio, taking a look at some of his unique work, and finding out what goes on behind the scenes when the camera isn’t clicking.

Barry Rosenthal Art | UnommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
Passion is a tool. My passion to keep exploring. Passion creates more work.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I can work anywhere. I started the project by shooting outside. Collecting, sorting and shooting in the field. My current studio is a workspace and acts as a library of my collections. It’s basic and barebones as I look to eliminate distractions.

Inspiration comes from going out into the field and collecting. I need to periodically find new material to work with. Later when working on the set to place the elements into a composition, I find a different kind of energy. When I see how the various components start to play off each other, that positive energy makes me want to continue the discovery process.

Inside Barry Rosenthal's Studio  UncommonGoods
Flowers for Inspiration | UncommonGoods

Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?
I’m a resident artist at chashama. I have a small studio in a large space with sixty other artists. When I to take a break, there is always another artist to talk to or share ideas with.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Make more pictures. It takes discipline to create.

Photography Tools

How do you set goals for yourself?
Long and short term goals are all based on reaching a new plateau. Whether in my art practice or marketing my work, there are always more opportunities for self improvement and finding openings that lead to new partnerships.

Barry Rosenthal in National Geographic Brazil

Barry Rosenthal’s Photo on the cover of National Geographic Brazil

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Book a flight to somewhere I’ve never been before.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation.’ Creative viewing.” – William S. Burroughs.

William S. Burroughs quote

I take the term ‘observation’ in this context to mean discovery by curation. I don’t know what I will find in the field, and I may not know what I will do with what I find, but somehow fully formed themes are sparked just by the simple act of ‘seeing’ what is out there. I carefully curate not just what goes into a piece but what I leave out.

There is also a second meaning here. To make the process complete, the audience plays a role by using its power of observation. Someone trained to ‘see’ can bring an audience into a new experience.

Barry's found collectionsBarry's found collection-Gloves

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Developing my vision. I am constantly tweeking the way I present a new piece. At first I tried the grid then perspective now I am doing new work based on time. What I pick in thirty minutes becomes the next idea.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Every time I return to my hunting grounds new ideas form. Getting out into nature renews this project.

Barry Rosenthal Pop Tops Glass | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I like to share my work and ideas. I am involved with several ongoing ‘salons’ where work is shown and ideas are discussed and refined.

Pop Top 6 Pack | UncommonGoods

Barry Rosenthal Glasses | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Ana Talukder

April 7, 2014

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsHere at UncommonGoods, we work with amazing vendors who constantly wow us with their creativity, artistry, and love of their craft. We don’t always get to meet the artists with whom we work; often relationships are forged through email and over the phone. Recently I was lucky enough to travel from our Brooklyn headquarters to Seattle to visit the studio of Ana Talukder , the super talented designer behind our beloved Latitude/Longitude jewelry collection.

Arriving at the studio, I was greeted with a big hug by Ana, and was immediately charmed by her bubbly and vivacious presence. I could not wait to see her studio and it was just as I imagined from hearing her description of it over the phone–a spacious and bright room with walls awash in her favorite color: purple. Her studio is a happy place, with touches of her personality everywhere–a purple peg board with small metal buckets to keep her organized, a board of inspirational quotes, and my personal favorite: an indoor window box of pansies (in purple of course!).

Ana and I looked at her new designs and talked about her process. I was wowed by how prolific she is, and how many new ideas she is constantly hatching. It was a great afternoon together and time flew by! Meet Ana and welcome to her colorful and inspirational world!

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat are your most essential tools?
Get ready for the cheese alert: A positive attitude!!! Oh, and coffee, which helps with the positive attitude.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
People that you know and love are going to look at you like you sit around your kitchen table stringing beads all day. Until they see you in a magazine (or 10 all at once – that’ll shut them up real fast).

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Don’t ever, ever, ever underestimate yourself (and don’t whine).

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m really goal-oriented. I like to make lists and to check stuff off lists and feel all accomplished by doing so.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
There are a lot of “happy dance-offs” in the studio. When we’ve met an impossible deadline, created a prototype that we’re in love with, or met a desired revenue goal… there is going to be a dance off. And we eat a lot of victory pho.

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
You always have to be looking to be better, you always have to be working at being better, and you always have to put all your heart in it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsWhat are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m working on a new collection that goes back to my first love: quotes. Jewelry with quotes on it has been done several different ways, so I’m working on coming up with some fresh ways to present text–which is requiring me to really move out of my comfort zone and explore new mediums and techniques. I learn best by doing and experimenting, so I’m just gathering materials, drawing a ton of sketches, and creating as much as possible.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I get the heck out of the studio. Far, far away from it. When I’m in a creative slump, I don’t go into the studio for a few days and after just a bit of time, I really, really need to get back in so I can create again.

Nyna, Ana's Production ManagerWhere does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I used to not collaborate, or even discuss my ideas with anyone. My very first employee, my production manager, Nyna, has been the GREATEST sounding board ever. It’s amazing how much more creative I can be with her added creative energy.

I also have two pretty amazing kids (11 & 8) who come into the studio with all sorts of opinions and suggestions–mostly opinions–and I’m married to an entrepreneur, as well, who always has great (and blunt) business advice and is probably my biggest cheerleader, so that helps a ton!

Katara the Studio CatKatara the Studio Cat

Ana Talukder Collection | UncommonGoods