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Intimate & Accessible: A Tabletop Ceramics Q&A

“Tabletop” is a different kind of show for The Art League. It’s all there in the name: this ceramic artwork isn’t for hanging, but for using and sharing.

We asked the potters of “Tabletop” to tell us why they make these functional forms — here’s what they had to say. Do you have a favorite teapot, bowl, cup, plate, or pitcher? Share your tabletop memories in the comments at the bottom of the post.

Click on thumbnails to view full images.

Eileen Egan / Washington, DC

Sipping Bowl
Sipping Bowl for Sake

“Something I love about making functional pots is the intimacy and accessibility they have as a form of art. When I buy a beautiful pot from another potter, I get to admire it again and again as a lovely piece of work, even if I eat, drink, or share food from it every day. I think and hope that details of things like that make a difference in our lives and routines.”

Joan Ulrich / Alexandria, VA

Arch Tea

“When I make pots for active use, I strive to assure that the experience meets or exceeds the user’s expectations. These are intimate moments; a pot being cradled in the hands or raised to the lips, and I love creating that intimacy.”

Carolanne Currier / Huntington, PA

Soda-Fired Creamer

“I make functional ceramics because I like the idea of making everyday life a little more special.”

Lou Raye Nichol / Cary, NC

Plate with photo transfer
Plate with Benedetta

“The appeal in this tabletop ware is twofold. One, using my husband’s lovely photographs. Two, the challenge of not losing the carbon trapped in the glaze while firing the photo transfer.”

Allison Severance / Alexandria, VA

Serving bowl
Serving Bowl

“I find the word ‘tabletop’ comforting. To me it implies home. It implies preparing and sharing food with friends and loved ones and my functional pots are made especially for that occasion. An early pottery instructor once told me I was too domesticated to make good pots. I continued making pots anyway and at present, I am proud and grateful of my domesticity and the role it plays in driving me to make pots that are functional and that have a job and are destined for tabletops in the home.”

Caleb Zouhary / Denton, TX

Casserole dishes
Small Casseroles

“In culinary school I was taught that the main emphasis in serving food is presentation. I take this to heart when designing vessels to aid in the presentation of each dish, and then translate those designs into functional wares that I craft in the studio. I then take home the finished pieces and test them in my kitchen, where I can critique, and later, make alterations to enhance the specific functionality of each vessel.”

Hollis Engley / East Falmouth, MA

Serving bowl
Faceted Stoneware Serving Bowl

“When I was first making pots — in the Art League clay program more than 20 years ago — my teacher Dan Finnegan used to say that he made “good pots for good food.” I liked the sound of that and kept it as my goal as I moved to my own full-time studio here on Cape Cod. I want my pots to be interesting, I want my potmaking and glazing to grow with each firing, but I always want my pots to perform a function. A faceted, wobble-rimmed, multiply-glazed bowl like the one here should show a Shino- and ash-glazed landscape on the outside, but also deliver the mashed potatoes at dinner time.”

Kristine Hites / Minneapolis, MN

Tulip Chalice
Tulip Chalice

“What appeals to me is drinking wine from the chalice in Winter and feeling the texture of the slip dots bring back fond memories of Spring and Summer gardening.”

Lynne Molner / Phoenix, MD

Dessert Plate
Dessert Plate

“I try to create an unexpected playfulness in my pots, incorporating whimsy and color into the form. Each pot is a painting: color, design, placement within the form. Even when the pot isn’t holding food, it allows for a connectedness with one’s inner playfulness or amusement.”

Melissa Yungbluth / St. Petersburg, FL

Dinner Plate with Fuschia
Dinner Plate with Fuschia

“My love for making highly decorative functional work stems from my childhood where my parents had the most beautiful wedding china. Locked away. To this day I still have not eaten off it. I want people to eat off of really beautiful things on a daily basis. In particular plates, like the one in the show, are my favorite to decorate. It’s as close to a flat canvas or piece of fine paper as possible, but still can be eaten from.”

Loren Scherbak / Rockville, MD

Side Handle Teapot
Side Handle Teapot

“Teapots challenge me to unify different parts into a pleasing and interesting whole vessel that ultimately has to perform its function well. Teapots are also very intimate. The user needs to look at it closely, and hold it carefully, every time she uses it to make tea. This is why I love making teapots. I love having the structure of function to frame my explorations in design.”

Jeremy Ayers / Waterbury, VT

Striped Water Pitcher

“I strive to make pottery that celebrates the joy of eating and drinking and creates a special relationship between the owner and the object. I enjoy how functional pottery becomes a witness and participant to the routines of your daily life. A water pitcher is dynamic form because it can do double duty as a vase when it’s not needed as pitcher.”

Roni Polisar / Burtonsville, MD

Bowl with Ash
Bowl with Ash

“When I consciously choose a certain bowl and set it on a table to offer food to guests, I feel a moment of awareness of the ritual of presentation, of the pleasure of sharing with a certain deliberateness. I recognize ceramics as objects that infuse aesthetics into domestic life, adding modest richness and enjoyment to small experiences.”

Debbie Williamson / Lovettsville, VA

Red, White and Blue
Red, White and Blue

“The cup! I think it’s the most intimate form there is. A privilege of life is relationship. I think the cup offering and acceptance is a path to connect. And reconnect. Cups are a priority on my make list.”

Hironobu Nishitateno / Loves Park, IL

Japanese Shino Sake Set
Japanese Shino Sake Set

“My passion for making functional pottery springs from a desire to bring beauty and nature into daily life. It is my belief that pottery should not be the center of attention on the dinner table; it should be simple and attractive, while discreetly adding to the delicious appearance of the food.”

Lindsay Scypta / Southport, CT

Salt & Pepper
Salt & Pepper

“My studio research has been focused on the history of the meal. I am interested in celebrating the forgotten journey that salt & pepper took to find its way to our civilized table. Salt held such importance at one time that it defined where guests sat at the table. I am honoring this history through the ornamentation of these functional vessels.”

Coleton Lunt / Flagstaff, AZ

Wood Fired Jug

“My forms, especially pitchers, are inspired by love or the lack of love. My forms are gestural with curves inspired by the human form.”

Charlotte Martin / Merion Station, PA

Compote with Four Dishes
Compote with Four Dishes

“My aim is to make functional pottery that brings beauty, vitality and pleasure to our daily lives. The soft wavy layers of pierced clay of my compote set, finished with gold luster and painterly decoration, transforms the useful into the delightful.”

Bill Van Gilder / Gapland, MD

Tenmoku Platter
Tenmoku Platter
“By making large quantities of functional, useful pots I’m able to get my daily work into the hands of many people; people who will be drinking from a cup I’ve made or eating from a plate they’ve purchased from me. This allows me to communicate, in a subtle way, my thoughts about food & table presentation; a ritual we all take part in several times a day.”

Keiko Stusnick / Bethesda, MD

Small Bowl
Small Bowl

“I like Japanese Aesthetics — a simple ‘wabi-sabi’ style. I make functional pots simply thinking of my family and friends for a daily use. But if someone likes my taste and the person uses my pots for his or her daily life, I am happier!”

Patrick Rademaker / Louisville, KY

Soda-Fired Mug
Soda-Fired Mug
“I like so many things about making pots that don’t even have to do with the actually making of the pots. I knew no matter what I did in life I wanted to be surrounded by great people, and the fact that I can achieve that through traveling and firing wood kilns really is pretty magical.”

“Tabletop” is open through July 7.

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