Artist Interview: Abby Berkson Ceramics! March 09, 2012 09:43

This week I'd like to introduce you all to Abby Berkson, the artist behind the whimsical ceramic line that we've been carrying this year. Read on to get to know Abby, and what inspires her! Have a good weekend, everyone!

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your handmade business.
My name is Abby Berkson, and my business is Abby Berkson Ceramics.  I fell in love with working with clay, especially on the potter’s wheel, when I was sixteen years old, and have been pursuing it as a career ever since.  I went to Alfred University because their ceramics program has a fabulous reputation, majored in ceramics in 2003, then worked for other potters and taught children’s ceramics classes before taking the step of running my own business.  Now I work full-time out of my home studio, throwing all of my pieces and hand illustrating each one.  Needless to say, I love my job!

Describe your studio for us.
My husband and I bought a house in Easthampton, MA last summer, and I have been converting the unfinished walkout basement into my studio. It is definitely basementy (not a bad thing, since pottery is very messy work), but it has great natural light, and a deep laundry sink -- really perfect for a ceramics studio.

I also have an office upstairs where I work on new illustrations, pack for shipping, and do various other parts of the job.  It’s a very sunny, yellow room with shelves full of pottery.  A nice place to spend time, but not as nice as the studio because there is no clay in there.

What is the inspiration behind the imagery you use on your pottery pieces?
I love children’s literature, especially if it is beautifully illustrated, and I draw a lot of inspiration from that, as well as from textile design (the cuter the better).  Teaching children’s ceramics classes got me started on decorating my work with animals. No matter what project I arranged for the class, the kids wanted to make things with their favorite animals, either sculpting them or painting them onto the pots.  I got on board with that pretty quickly, and really have those students to thank for putting me on this path.  I don’t think childhood is entirely painless, but I do think it is an incredible, magical part of life, and making my work connects me to it.  I hope using my work connects others to it as well.  I never make any of my work specifically for children, I make things I would want to use, and know that other adults like me will want to use them too.  But I do love knowing that people buy my work for children as well, and that my pottery might become part of someones childhood memories.

Can you tell us about the handmade scene in your area of Western Massachusetts?
One of the reasons I moved to Northampton from the wilderness of Vermont about 8 years ago was because it is so populated with artists.  A number of respected potters live in this area.  I figured that if I moved here I would be able to find someone to work with, and I really lucked into the perfect job with a potter named Connie Talbot, who runs High Hollow Pottery in Windsor, MA, just on the edge of the gorgeous Berkshire Mountains.  I worked with Connie for four amazing years.  She is an incredible skilled potter who has been making work for forty years, and I consider my time with her as valuable as my time in art school.

A lot of great crafters live in Western Mass.  It is beautiful, and has a lot to offer as far as restaurants and entertainment, mainly due to the five colleges located in our area.  It is also a manageable driving distance to a lot of larger cities, like Boston, Providence and NYC. So that makes it easy to do great craft shows wherever they may be.

What piece of advice would you offer someone trying to take their work from hobby to business?
I’d say put in a lot of time learning your craft, and make sure you are making something true to your own taste -- something you would want to own, something that means a lot to you.  Then be brave about letting it go out into the world, into other people’s lives and homes.  Initially I had some inner resistance to putting my work out into the world. It is sort of scary, especially at first -- it’s like offering up an intimate piece of yourself for others to judge.  But now I love interacting with customers and shop owners about my work, because I am producing something I am proud of and stand behind one hundred percent.  

What does handmade mean to you?
I love working with my hands. Every piece I make is touched by my hands an absurd number of times before it is ready to be sent out into the world: when I wedge the clay, when I throw, trim, put on a handle, clean up edges, decorate, glaze, load and unload a kiln.  We live in a very cerebral culture, and while I appreciate mental intelligence, it is so grounding to use your hands.  I think physical skills are incredibly rewarding -- just to do something over and over again and let your hands gain the understanding of making something in a way that your mind could never learn on its own.  I find it both grounding and intoxicating, and think everyone should cultivate hands-on skills.

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I found out about Craftland from my lovely, crafty friend Rachel Bone, who runs a screen printing business called Red Prairie Press in Baltimore.  Her work is at Craftland too.  We went to high school together in New Hampshire, but now only see each other at craft shows.  She is very keyed-in to the craft scene, and has a lot of great advice about what shows to do and what shows to avoid.  She very enthusiastically told me about the Craftland holiday show, and I was beside myself with joy to have my work in the show and now in the year-round shop.  Woo-hoo!

Little known fact about you.
I am a bookworm.  I think that libraries are civilization’s greatest invention.   My favorite book is The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall and I have read it many times.  Read it!