People’s Pottery Project (PPP) has a simple mission: “to empower formerly incarcerated women, trans, and nonbinary individuals and their communities through the arts.” The value of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, though, reaches far beyond the ceramics studio where its members carefully sculpt and glaze dinnerware to sell from its warehouse.
At the heart of PPP is mutual aid, a form of community support and solidarity that rapidly expanded at the onset of the pandemic but that has a rich history in political movements. The initiative is multi-faceted—it currently employs three people full-time and two part-time, and formerly incarcerated folks can drop in to help in the production process and be paid for their contributions. Depending on COVID-19 guidance and the ability to meet in-person, PPP also hosts community classes. As restrictions lift in the coming months, the organization plans to expand these offerings as it strives to stabilize its income and connect with more artists.
The project began when co-founder Molly Larkey hosted free pottery workshops for women, trans, and non-binary folks, many of whom were experiencing homelessness. “It was immediately apparent that people who came to class needed to be paid for their time: not only to value their creative contribution toward the organization that was starting to take form but as a way to put money in their pockets,” Larkey says. Many of the gatherings simultaneously sparked conversations about job opportunities and housing options, which offered additional support beyond the group’s creative practice.
Two attendees in these early days were Ilka Perkins and her wife, Dominique, women Larkey knew through her volunteer efforts with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an organization that works tirelessly to have people who are incarcerated be released through commutation, parole board support, and legislative reform. Larkey offered Perkins a job as an artist assistant prior to Perkins’ release from the California Institution for Women in 2020. Soon after, the two co-founded PPP.
Today, the organization sells 10-inch plates and bowls in three sizes—every item is made entirely by hand so the pale blues and earthen tones vary on each dish—with plans to create new products and special packaging that details the issues communities are facing. These include DROP LWOP (Drop Life Without the Possibility of Parole) and SURVIVED & PUNISHED, two abolitionist campaigns that current PPP employee Susan Bustamante, who previously was serving a life sentence, is involved in.
Many of the fully functional ceramics are sold for $50, a price point that aligns with PPP’s goals. The idea is “to share our beauty and creativity, to employ as many formerly incarcerated people as we can in meaningful creative work and make our ceramics accessible to anyone and everyone,” Larkey says. “We are hopeful that our art will also function as advocacy so that people learn more about the issues affecting us and our loved ones who are still incarcerated.”
As for future endeavors, Larkey is optimistic about the possibilities of artists getting involved in mutual-aid efforts as a way to support their neighbors. “There is a real need for creative skills but the most important thing—and I can’t stress this enough—is to be involved with a community over a period of time,” she says. “The groundwork has been already laid by the people most impacted by systemic oppressions such as the prison industrial complex, and they will be the ones who know what is most needed.”
Share this story
Spanish street artist Manolo Mesa merges public and private spheres through large-scale murals that highlight simple domestic objects. The multiple-story artworks depict traditional dining scenes, from an elegant porcelain tea set to a lone jug with swirling flourishes to another vessel resting on a saucer.
To complete a recent tableau in Oviedo, Spain, for Parees Fest, Mesa explored the history of an abandoned pottery factory in San Claudio. Event organizers gathered tableware from local residents, a collection that informed the shapes and exterior motifs of his work. “I was able to see all the evolution of this earthenware in the houses of Oviedo. I found postwar pieces, which were inherited and preserved with great affection by collectors. We saw (the) tableware of a lifetime from the middle of the century,” he writes on Instagram. Showcasing a delicate collection of vessels, the resulting mural explores an otherwise hidden facet of local history.
Find Mesa on Instagram to view some works-in-progress and follow his ceramic-centric projects.
Share this story
Japanese ceramicist Yuta Segawa plays with scale and color in his multitudes of miniature vessels. Each hand-thrown pot and vase is crafted with the same attention to structure and detail that a full-sized piece would have, from the tidy foot to the gracefully shaped neck. Segawa also formulates his own glazes, with five hundred under his belt so far.
To accentuate the small size and complementary colors of his ceramics, Segawa often displays the vessels in long, neat rows, or arranges them in a scattered formation that shifts between warm and cool tones. Segawa describes the intention behind his work in a statement on his SGW Studio website: “Miniature pottery relates to the issue of the relationship between artists’ bodies and their works. It is a challenge to test the limits of what a human body can make on such a small scale.”
In addition to his pint-sized pottery, the London-based artist also experiments with using his feet and tongue in place of his hands to shape pots, a technique he refers to as “body throwing“, and glazes mountainous piles of collapsed vessels that send up the notion of ceramics as functional vessels. Pick up a tiny pot of your own in Segawa’s online store, and watch the making-of in the video below. Segawa also shares updates on in-progess and completed pieces on Instagram. If you enjoy Segawa’s work, also check out Jon Almeda.
Share this story
Canadian potter Abby Ozaltug creates charming clay planters that give an extra bit of personality to domestic leafy greens. Tousled ivy, spiky cacti, and multi-strand succulents become the unique verdant hairstyles of rotund planters. Each ceramic vessel sports arms and legs (sometimes functional, sometimes decorative), and a few of Ozaltug’s designs also have charmingly simple smiles and eyes. The artist sells her pottery on Etsy as CeramicSense, and shares updates on Instagram.
Share this story
Michael Boroniec subverts the age-old conception of pots and vases as useful vessels of containment with his sculptural ceramics. The artist began his spiral motif in 2008 with a focus on teapots, and the style has since become the predominant theme of his body of work. Boroniec forms each vessel on his potter’s wheel, and then carefully slices through the still-soft clay to deconstruct the traditional shape. He describes his intention behind these deconstructions in a recent Instagram post:
This process reveals aspects of the vase that most rarely encounter. Within the walls, maker’s marks become evident and contribute to the texture. The resultant ribbon effect, reminiscent of a wheel trimming, lends fragility, elegance, and motion to a medium generally perceived as hard and heavy. This emphasizes a resistance of gravity, allowing negative space to unravel and become part of the form.
Boroniec studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and now lives and works in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He is represented by Lyons Wier Gallery, where his work is on view in a group exhibition through April 28, 2018. You can see more of his work on tumblr and Instagram. Mark Cantin and Cat Burt also directed and produced a short film about Boroniec, which you can view below.
Share this story
A team of Turkish and Italian archeologists working on a site in southern Turkey discovered an interesting object recently, an ancient smiley face drawn on the side of an off white jug. The faded face is simplistically drawn, two black dots hovering over a crooked arch just below, and is so subtle it was not noticed until it had been transported to a lab for restoration.
“The smiling face is undoubtedly there (there are no other traces of painting on the flask) and has no parallels in ancient ceramic art of the area,” said Dr. Nicolo Marchetti of Bologna University, who led the excavation.
The crew had been at the site of its discovery for the last seven summers, an area that was once the ancient Hittite city Karkemish. The object is unlike anything else they have encountered in the area, however it was not the only important thing unearthed. The team also found 250 clay bullae, or tokens that would have been attached to legal documents, a large basalt relief of two griffons, and the remains of both a fortress and grain silo.
The architectural site will be open to the public next year as the Karkemish Ancient City Archaeological Park. You can visit the ancient smiley close by when it goes on display at the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology. (via The History Blog)
Share this story
Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.