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Ceramics

Maker Stories

A Throne For Your Trinkets: Tracy Shea’s Pedestal Jewelry Holder

April 22, 2016

Tracy Shea | Pedestal Jewelry Stand | UncommonGoods

Tracy Shea remembers her first time. As a sophomore at Ohio’s Mentor High School she took a ceramics course and was instantly hooked. “From the minute I touched clay, it’s always been something I wanted to do,” she recalls.

She scored a partial scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of the Arts, but ended up accepting a full-ride to a different college. “My parents refused to pay for an art education,” she explains. “They were like, ‘You’ll never make it as an artist.’”

Fast forward three decades and the Garrettsville, Ohio mom of two spends her days making her popular Pedestal Jewelry Holder. The lace-imprinted ceramic stand — fitted with 50 holes to hang earrings — was born from a desire to display heirloom pieces passed down to her from her aunt. Eyeing her collection “drove me to think, people have stuff that they don’t necessarily want to throw in a drawer,” she says. “People collect stuff for a reason — there are emotional ties. So this is a special place to put things that are really special.” She puts her process — and her life as an artist — on display.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Kristen Juen

November 30, 2015

Kristen Juen | UncommonGoods

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the people behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Kristen Juen, the artist behind our new Mauna Planter and Dish and Valley Hanging Planter.

Mauna Planter and Dish | UncommonGoods

When did you know you wanted to be an artisan?

I have always had a passion for creativity. When I moved to Austin recently it felt like the right time and place to pursue a path as a maker.

What has been the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artisan?

Sharing my joy and inspiration for creating with others!

Kristen Juen | UncommonGoods

What does your typical day in the studio look like?

I like to stay busy in the studio. I typically continue on a previous day’s work, while also starting something new so I always have something going. You will find me rolling out slabs, assembling new work, trimming, smoothing, and glazing. I also currently work out of a shared studio, so I learn a lot and gain inspiration from being around other creatives.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?

I do not have a specific trinket, but I gain so much inspiration from the outdoors. Getting out of the studio occasionally to take in the beauty, peace, and surprises that can be discovered in nature, is so important to the development of my creativity and ceramic wares.

Kristen Juen | UncommonGoods

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?

A kindergartner recently looked up at me during an art show in amazement and said, “Did you make all this?”

Valley Hanging Planter | UncommonGoods

What quote or mantrakeeps you motivated?

It can be scary to push myself to try new creative ideas that might completely fail. However, I recognize that my most exciting creations often evolve from these experiments. I am inspired and motivated to keep going by the Joseph Chilton Pearce quote, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

See the Collection | 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 JoAnn Stratakos

July 14, 2014

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods
At UncommonGoods, we’re always excited when we launch a product that in time reveals itself to be a complete game-changer; an overwhelmingly popular product that sheds new light on what makes something a runaway sensation. But every once in a blue moon, we meet a new product that we know will win hearts as soon as it is placed in This Just In. Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn was the latter. From his goofy blue eyes to his chubby little feet, we were smitten and didn’t have any questions as to whether everyone else would share our love for him.

So we decided to take a trip to Pennsylvania to meet Elwood’s creator. By “we” I mean Senior Buyer Candace, Purchasing Planner Maham, and myself, and by “trip” I mean a car ride outside of cell phone service to a place where the streets had no name. Literally, we had to call when we were close so the artist could give us directions that Google couldn’t help us with. We were warmly greeted by ceramicist JoAnn and her spirited team of Mudworks helpers who were eager to show us how our most beloved new product is born. It was easy to fall in love with people as it was to fall in love with their creations so we are excited to share our visit with you.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods
What are your most essential tools?
My hands.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My inspiration comes from working the clay, and inside my head… that’s where the designs come from.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhere does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time??? I am supposed to have down time??? Elwood disagrees! (Though we do have company outings, and frequent lunches where we attempt to take turns making various foods for all to enjoy.)

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I was never a “young” designer. I started learning to make pottery when I was 40+ years old. The best lesson I learned was the harder you worked, the luckier you got!

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Advice to the me of five years ago…learn bookkeeping.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I set goals HIGH… then stretch to reach them.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
I don’t have only one quote… there are several: “If you argue for your limitations, then all you get is to keep them.” “Well-behaved women never make history.” “Never teach a pig to sing… it’s a waste of your time and it only annoys the pig.” “Behind every successful woman is a man who’s surprised.” I guess what they all mean to me is that you have to keep going, keep motivated and put your energy where it will do the most good.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
New skills? Every day is an opportunity to learn something, but I am not attending workshops or classes personally.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsHow do you recharge your creativity?
Vodka, definitely vodka.

Where does collaboration come into play with you craft?
Pottery is one on one, me and the clay. However, when I come up with a new design, I do run it past my crew to see if it will be viable. As an artist, though, I tend to make things I like, things I’d like to have around me.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods

Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn | UncommonGoods