Pottery Is the New Yoga! Here’s to the Mind-Clearing Benefits of Clay

In the past few years, pottery has crept out of the knickknack shop and into the realm of fashion. Clay’s chic status is believed to have been made official in 2013, when Steven Alan began carrying the work of young potters at his home-goods store. Rachel Comey held a ceramics bazaar at her New York shop shortly thereafter, and designer Paloma Wool commissioned original works by young potters to sell on her website—along with clothing made from ceramic-inspired fabric—for The Vase Project. The craze for earthenware has made a mark on Instagram, too, where artisans like Lindsey Hampton, Helen Levi, and Natalie Weinberger boast followings rivaling those of any It girl (although, speaking of which, even Emily Ratajkowski has recently posted herself elbow deep in clay). Young creatives, who in another era might have gone to work at fashion houses, are pursuing careers to do with kilns, and more and more of the sort of with-it women who practice yoga at Sky Ting and dine at Dimes (itself a showcase for creative clay) are signing up for after-work or weekend classes. “Everyone’s a potter these days!” laughs superstar ceramicist Amanda Moffat. “It’s great.”

Pottery is more than an emerging market or au courant hobby, however; amid our can’t-stop-won’t-stop tech-addicted culture, it connects us to the earth when the world might as well be coming undone. (Should you find yourself with a case of the pre-inaugural terrors, there are few activities more soothing than staring at the beguiling shapes featured on the Instagram accounts of Cassie Griffin and Helen Levi.)

“It’s always been popular, it’s just become more so with the farm-to-table movement,” Levi says of her métier. She’s speaking from her car, in the middle of transporting 140 bowls to the Brooklyn restaurant Vinegar Hill House for a charity dinner series she organized for pottery lovers in advance of Donald Trump’s inauguration. A ticket to Potters in Protest covers food, wine, and the right to walk away with the one-of-a-kind handmade bowl in which your dinner was served. Just as we crave connection with the person who bakes our pies and makes our wine, we want a coffee mug that feels made by hand—even if it’s too valuable to actually drink from.

Earlier this week, Moffat was seated at the knotted wood work table in her studio, a 5,000-square-foot light-filled oasis in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn (Isabel Halley, a ceramicist and longtime friend of Lena Dunham, was working in an adjoining space that she rents from Moffat). As Moffat created a coiled edge for a flower box that will take two weeks to dry properly, she reflected on the joy of working with clay. “You can’t rush it,” Moffat said. “Things will crack and break and fall off. This is the opposite of an instant gratification activity.” Conversely, the gratification runs deep. “Hours can pass without thinking or caring about anything else—that’s what is known as the ‘potter’s nod,’ ” says star art-world ceramicist (and sometime Rachel Comey collaborator) Jennie Jieun Lee. “It’s a feeling that’s very similar to being at the mercy of a wonderful drug, except in this case, it’s a holistic antidepressant.”

“You have to be in tune with the clay and react to what state it’s in to work with it,” explains John Sheppard, who recently left his job as a designer at The Wall Street Journal to devote himself full-time to his sculptural ceramics line, of the craft’s elemental appeal. “It’s very meditative. It turns off a higher level of thinking. You have to let go and give in to the unpredictability of it. You can go in with an idea of what you want to make, and the clay doesn’t want to do that.”

Listening to him, it’s hard not to hear the echoes of all the yoga teachers who have urged their students to try new poses and not worry about falling or losing balance. Standing over a stove can help clear the mind, too, but it would be foolish to mistake sautéing onions for standing meditation. Cooking is a functional activity that depends on predictability; one misstep and your dinner goes up in smoke. Clay is liberating in that nobody can see you trip up, and nobody is hungry for what you end up doing with it—well, nobody but your Instagram followers. Namaste.



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