Helen Levi, ceramicist

If, like us, you began hearing the name Helen Levi only a few months ago — well, there’s a pretty good reason for it. At this time last year, Levi was balancing four part-time jobs, working as a photo assistant, a pottery teacher, a bartender and a waitress. “I’d been doing pottery since I was a little kid, but mostly gifts or for myself,” she told me when I visited her Greenpoint studio last month. “It’s the dream to be able to make stuff you want to make and have that support you, but I never really thought that was possible.”

Then, at a random cocktail event last fall at one of the Steven Alan shops in Manhattan, Levi met the man himself: “I met Steven Alan by chance and was telling him about my work, and he was like, ‘Send it to me.’ I didn’t even have one photograph!” Levi laughs. “But once I met him, it was the spark. I quit all my other jobs and I just tried to do this. Maybe it doesn’t work out and I go back to balancing four things, but it didn’t take a huge investment of money. And so far it’s working.”

Working is an understatement. Levi not only landed a spot making ceramics for Alan’s new home store, which opened in Tribeca last March, but she’s also already completed her first dishware commission for a sushi restaurant and she’s working on porcelain charms for shops like Mociun. (Not to mention she’s the studio manager at a communal space in Brooklyn, where she shares with like-minded ceramicists like Josephine Heilpern of Recreation Center and Rachel Howe of Small Spells.)

“I figure this is the time to run with it and see where it goes. I have myself and my dog; that’s what I’m responsible for. It wasn’t until my sister was born that my dad went to law school, so I’ve always felt like you don’t have to have a serious career until you have a baby. And my parents have been incredibly supportive. Well, supportive with a measure of realism. I’ll be like ‘Mom, look at this write-up I got on Design Sponge.’ She’s like, ‘Helen, don’t let it get to your head.’”

Favorite everyday object:
“My dog’s rope leash. An old strapless batik dress of my mom’s. My cell phone camera because I take like 50 pictures a day on it. This really amazing drug store chapstick called Baby Lips.”

Favorite place to shop for materials:
“I love shopping, not just clothes but grocery shopping, hardware shopping, and now, ceramic supply shopping. There’s a store in upstate New York called Bailey’s that I love so much. The ladies who work there are so sweet and so knowledgeable. I’ve called them many times just to ask random questions and they always indulge me. They have an incredible showroom as well so whenever I go up to my parents’ house upstate I always try to stop by and pick out some stuff. Last time I went I had my dog with me and I wasn’t sure if he was allowed in, but as soon as I brought him they each came out of their cubicles one by one with a Ziploc baggie of dog treats.”

Favorite Google Image search:
“Probably something to do with puppies. I’m always trying to figure out what breed my mutt is so I google image different breeds as puppies and see if they look like him.”

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
“A photographer. Or a math teacher.”

 Visit Helen and see more of her work in person Friday, September 27 and Saturday, September 28 at the Back 2 Cool pop-up!