I LOVE ANYTHING made by hand. Once, while driving cross-country in my 20s, I nearly killed myself (and the passenger in my car) by flipping a U-turn on I-40 in Oklahoma; I was trying to hightail it back to a billboard I'd noticed advertising a quilt barn. The store was a flop, but the memory of the adrenaline rush remains. And in the years since, between traveling and picking through flea markets, I've managed to amass a sizable collection of outsider art, handmade objects, and specialized local crafts from around the world.
The word “craft” can have a downmarket connotation when it sits next to “art,” but the difference is purely semantic. What we call crafts are art forms that have historically been the creative pursuits of women: quilts, clothing, and ceramics, to name a few. Despite my aforementioned risk-taking tendencies toward quilts, ceramics may be my favorite. I find their usefulness, tactile qualities, and the sheer variety of them completely irresistible. And they are useful. Many ceramics hold flowers, and flowers are right up there with scent as the fastest and most effective means of changing the feeling of a space.
At this point in my life, I am told that I am hard to shop for, but ceramics are a pretty sure win, so I get a lot of them. My husband describes my taste as leaning toward pieces that look like they were made by children, but are very expensive. And honestly, I can’t argue with that assessment. At a friend’s recent ceramics sale, I found myself handling some small and wonderfully weird objects that she told me were, indeed, the work of her 10-year-old son. Kids’ art is often distinctly wonderful because it is imperfect and not bound by constraints, qualities I admire in some of my favorite ceramicists.
The wish list below is far from exhaustive. In fact, narrowing it down to five was the biggest challenge. These are a few of the ceramic artists whose pieces I most covet right now.
Jennie Jieun Lee
A vase by Jennie Jieun Lee was the reference point for my husband’s comment about my taste in ceramics. It sits in the middle of my kitchen table and has been my number one vase for more than a year. Thrown in porcelain, it has a traditional shape that has been crushed on one side, then painted with splatters of pinks and gold that run off and pool at the bottom. I continue to be amazed by how it can look completely different depending on the colors of the flowers I put in it. So far, every bouquet I have tried looks better in this vase.
I love Somsack Sikhounmuong’s work as a clothing designer (he’s currently the designer behind Alex Mill, and he previously made Madewell a thing). He recently started selling his ceramics, which couldn’t be more different than his clothes but are also wonderful. They are each one-of-a-kind and are sold on a first-come-first-serve basis through his Instagram account. My favorite ones look like they might have come from a Tim Burton movie.
I would be remiss not to include the artist Bari Ziperstein’s ceramics line on this list. Along with vases and tabletop objects, she also makes furniture and planters that feature unexpected combinations of shapes, often imperfectly stacked. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would fill my deck with her planters (they tend to crack in cold weather) and make a surrealist garden.
These ceramics are not thrown; they’re constructed. Cody Hoyt painstakingly cuts out shapes with an X-ACTO knife, arranges them in sheets, and uses the sheets to build objects. The final products are vessels with geometric patterns so finely detailed that sometimes they even look printed. The process is intricate and stunningly labor-intensive; they are priced accordingly.
Danny Kaplan’s lamps resemble the standard lamp shapes you have seen before, but each has been tweaked and honed further. Elongated or stacked in unexpected combinations, they feature soft edges and glazes with the beautiful imperfections that come from being applied by hand. Though the collection generally has only white and black pieces, a recent limited-edition collaboration with Bruno Grizzo layers on paintings by the artist, resulting in unique objects splashed with color.
Skye Parrott Photographer and Writer
Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.