Monday, November 5, 2012

A Bowl to Hold

"The handmade object has a vitality of its own that no mass produced thing can duplicate.” 
- Beatrice Wood

What is it about handmade objects that is so appealing? We think it has to do with the maker. We hear time and again that a craftsperson made a certain thing because he or she wanted one. When you start from the point of wanting one yourself, your focus is on how to make it great, not how to make it profitable. Fortunately, great can be profitable, too.

Mea Rhee of Good Elephant makes pots that have a quiet vitality all their own - so we thought she'd be a good person to ask about what separates functional ware from functional ware you choose every day. There's something about the shape of her pots that makes them irresistible to pick up and hold.

"That factor is really important to me," Mea says of how a pot feels in your hands. "I think this is the difference between pots that are frequently used, and those that get shuffled to the back of a cupboard. I tweak my designs whenever I see some way to improve this. In particular, I like pots that have rounded bottoms with no foot ring, which fit in the cup of your hand. And they must be balanced for weight, i.e. not top-heavy or bottom-heavy. I also think my semi-matte glaze is really nice to touch."

We've found that people who make pottery use handmade pottery, and Mea is no exception. "I look for pots that specifically fit the types of food that I like to cook and eat," she says. "I drink lots of coffee so I buy large mugs. I eat a lot of rice dishes, so I look for bowls that will hold the amount of food I want. I look for the same qualities that I strive for in my own pots: weight, balance, and comfort."

When buying pottery, she cites a deep admiration for wood-fired pottery, especially when combined with highly functional forms and surfaces. "I mostly buy pots where the aesthetic qualities are in that [woodfired] spectrum, with natural color palettes, and lots of subtle surface textures, things that can only be achieved with a whole lot of practice and expertise."

Given her fondness for woodfired pottery, it's not surprising to learn that at one point Mea thought she needed to move to a rural area and build a fuel-burning kiln in order to be taken seriously as a potter. In 2007 she attended a trade show with wholesale buyers, who took her work seriously just as it is. That's where we found her! Over time she's learned "you don't have to go somewhere else in order to chase your dream. Build it where you are."

Good advice worth pondering over a big cup of coffee and bowl of rice.

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