DMTV Milkshake: A Peek Inside Ceramicist Helen Levi’s Queens Studio
In this week’s Milkshake, ceramicist Helen Levi welcomes us to her studio in Queens, New York. This is where she creates her highly regarded work: mugs and cups, plates and bowls, and – our favorite – her colorful tiles. Her work is distinguished by highly graphic vibes (like these incredible Color Field tiles) and a determined sense of whimsy – like her Artist’s espresso mugs, with a rainbow splatter pattern covered in a clear glaze or her Snow Drift mugs, with a textural, and very snowy, white glaze. In addition to their sense of welcome and warmth, her pieces exude a sense of easy style.
Here, she sails through a few of our questions: Was her big break – which came courtesy of famed retailer Steven Alan – a product of fate or chance? Levi had been working in pottery since childhood, even teaching the discipline to kids – but until she met Alan in 2013, she hadn’t sold it to the public. “I was at a pop-up in one of his stores, and I went with a friend who had been working on the store,” Levi says. “I saw he had some handmade pottery out, and I thought, ‘Why is a clothing store selling handmade pottery?’” The answer was straightforward: Alan planned to open a home goods store. “I had been completely unaware of the community of functional potters that existed – obviously they had been doing their thing and I just didn’t know about it, but it was so exciting for me to think about these small studios,” she says. “Since I had been making pottery for a very long time as a hobby, it kind of lit a little light bulb in me that maybe this was a path that existed.” Alan asked her to share pictures of her work, and when she did, he placed an order. “That was my first experience selling wholesale,” she says. “My first experience getting my work out there – and it was also my first experience making work not for myself or as a gift. So, a huge learning curve there – I think I remade that order three times.”
Also in this Milkshake, Levi shares how she splits her artistic identity between potter and photographer (settling on the “pot-ographer” of her Instagram bio) and a technical challenge she’s faced. For the latter, she has a (very large) piece to share – one that was so big, it didn’t fit in her kiln. “And so it remains here, half-finished five years later,” she says. Tune in for more!
Diana Ostrom, who has written for Wallpaper, Interior Design, ID, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, is also the author of Faraway Places, a newsletter about travel.
Milkshake, DMTV (Design Milk TV)’s first regular series, shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators and industry professionals to select interview questions at random from their favorite bowl or vessel. During their candid discussions, you’ll not only gain a peek into their personal homeware collections, but also valuable insights into their work, life and passions.