The Dusky, Sophisticated Beauty of Natalie Weinberger’s Ceramics
Natalie Weinberger’s ceramics draw you in with their dusky beauty while a sense of mystery keeps you looking. Her pieces have the stillness of arrested movement; they seem both captured in time but not limited by any one moment, nodding to pottery’s long history, but also feeling oh so current. Or, as she puts it: “I love a good remix.”
Weinberger, working out of her New York studio, brings an uncommon thoughtfulness to her practice. You can detect a kind of intellectual underpinning in her work, and though it’s never overly academic, it makes sense that she took her first wheel-throwing class while getting her Masters in historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania. Ceramics provided a creative outlet when she was in the midst of writing her thesis on Cambodian urbanism. “By the time the semester ended,” she says, “I knew I was in trouble and had chosen the wrong field.” Pottery came much more naturally to her and after four years of working at nonprofits in urban planning and economic justice, while practicing on the wheel at night, Weinberger took the leap and began working as a ceramicist full time in 2014. “I may not be using my graduate degree directly but I would say studying preservation has had a big impact on the way I think about design and craft.”
She’s recently been applying her knowledge of clay and interest in vessels to different forms and materials and also collaborated with designer Ana Kras on a few projects, including the black gloss bowls we recently featured and a set called “Family,” a modular group of wheel-thrown, functional objects that stack to make a tabletop sculpture – abstracted parents and child. Here’s more on what’s in store for Weinberger and what she’s into now.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
I love stemware and find it equal parts elegant and absurd, and for a long time I’d been curious to see if I could make some stemware forms on the wheel. When Picture Room asked me to be their featured artist this past spring, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on a collection that would be more about form and humor than the strictly functional work I make for my wholesale accounts.
I decided to expand on the stemware theme and open it up to a study of the footed vessel, in general, and called the finished group “Big Foot.” The task made me feel a bit like a shoe designer, which was fun. Some pieces were thrown in parts as composites, and others thrown as a solid and trimmed to the extreme. In the end, the forms were a mash-up of just a few elements — the pebble base, fluted stem, and cylinder pedestal.
For the materials and finish, I wanted to celebrate the diversity of commercial clays available in the US — the variety of clay bodies we American potters can get our hands on is just nuts! I worked with 14 different clays in total and for an accent made my own lavender porcelain for the sake cups. It was quite the feat to keep track of everything!
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
Last year, I began collaborating with Ana Kras on “Family,” (above) a modular group of wheel-thrown, functional objects that stack to make a tabletop sculpture – abstracted parents and child. My next project is more of a departure from what I’ve been working on these past two years as a studio potter. A small homeware brand asked me to design a line of bamboo baskets, and I’m a real basket lover so I was thrilled.
I’m not at all a trained industrial designer, so my process in designing this collection is a bit improvised, but I think it works. Instead of sketching on paper, I took my ideas straight to the wheel to get a sense of how things felt in 3D. Twenty pots later I was able to narrow down the group to a few main forms which I then remade, adjusting the size and proportions, tweaking things until they felt right. Now I’m taking these final silhouettes and making technical drawings to hand off to the workshop that’ll be making them. I’m really learning as I go, but the process has been a delight and has definitely piqued my interested in designing vessels in other materials, while putting my abilities as a potter to work in the prototyping stage.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
R&B covers — I love how the genre has centered itself around the tradition of reinvention and reinterpretation. There’s nothing like discovering a great old song through a contemporary cover. For me it’s really analogous to how I feel about pottery making — the medium itself carries so much historical weight, it’s almost impossible to not quote the past, but also so difficult to make the same thing twice. I try to embrace that in my own work – the looking back and paying homage while making something that feels present. I love a good remix.
What’s your favorite piece of design from the last 10 years and why?
I recently stumbled across the lighting of the Spanish company Arturo Alvarez. The Tempo collection in particular struck an immediate chord. These lights are handmade of pleated, painted steel mesh — as objects they have that sense of intrigue that I’m after, a certain kind of movement and controlled chaos. The material is so well suited for its use; it looks like a dancing woman’s dress or a chic bioluminescent jellyfish. I’d love to hang one over my bed and fall asleep imagining that I lived deep at the floor of the ocean.