Jessie Lazar is a ceramicist, born and raised in NYC, who has recently transplanted to Upstate New York. Come take a listen as we catch up on the phone, as you do these days, and talk about her journey here…
Martha: I’m so happy to have this conversation with you! Your work has been so important to me in building the assortment of the shop from the very beginning.
Jessie: Awwwww… thank you!
Martha: Truly! I’m not sure if you remember but we met at Greenwich House Pottery in NYC. I was an absolute neophyte, just trying to get clay centered on the wheel and you were one of the potters who I was in AWE of your skill and aesthetic. I once asked you if you sold your work, and you gave me a card. It went into a folder, a dream catcher of sorts, long before Milton Market was even a fully formed idea.
Jessie: That's amazing. I just love that, Martha.
Martha: Me too. So, tell me about you and where it all started.
Jessie: It was a convoluted path. I’ve worked in a lot of different mediums, I studied art in school, I went to a super progressive school that had a big focus on art and then to Bard to study photography and literature. My entire life has been lived through a pretty creative lens. I’ve always been a maker and I still am! I’m still making dolls, now for my daughter.
Martha: How did you get to pottery?
Jessie: In school I studied as a photographer and I missed the dark room and the tactile nature of working with film. Somehow pottery felt related. I had never done it. I mean, I did in elementary school, and my mom still has my clay sushi rolls to prove it! I felt really drawn to and curious about pottery. I took one class and I was hooked, just completely addicted. It was SO much harder than I expected and that was frustrating, but I was really committed to figuring it out. It took a long while to become proficient, but I was really driven to make my hands get there. After about 10 years of classes and so much practice, and enough people asking to buy my work that I felt confident enough to start selling it, and from there a business was born.
Martha: The more I speak to creative people and makers, I find the path is always quite similar… It starts as a particular passion but it's always the devotion to the craft through hours and hours of practice that's the same.
Jessie: There is no getting away from it. During the pandemic, I wasn’t at the wheel for at least 6 months, and I missed it terribly. When I sat back down at the wheel, I felt the same passion and drive that I felt when it was a new hobby and had spent thousands of hours at it. It was still right “there” for me. I felt the commitment from all of those hours being reflected back in a muscle memory. I still think there is something really special about clay and the focus and zen of sitting at a potters wheel.
Martha: It's meditative, right?
Jessie: Yes, and I’m just hooked on it. I love working with clay. I have definitely found the medium that I’m going to stick with for a long, long time.
Martha: Where are you on the spectrum of art vs. function?
Jessie: I’ve always been most interested in making functional things. I have a huge appreciation for sculpture, and for pottery that's made as art. For me, I’ve always wanted to make functional items as beautiful as I could. I wanted to create something that would become part of a ritual. Like sitting down every morning with that special cup for your coffee. I always thought there was something really wonderful about being a part of someone's daily, practical life, and I want to make work that's actually used. I love the idea that those items create special attachments in people's lives. That was always my goal.
Martha: Your pucker vases have become a mainstay in the shop from the very beginning. A customer was in the store last weekend, she’s purchased many as gifts, and she said to me... “Now more than ever, all it takes is one single stem.” That resonated with me so, so much.
Jessie: I think that's really beautiful and something so special about that connection. That's the human connection I’m referring to.
Martha: There is something about pottery that is almost primal. As an art form, it's been around for so long, and even longer as utility.
Jessie: And also, it's just mud. It's the humblest of materials but it’s the most malleable and then it becomes the most solid. It’s a very basic material that can be so easily transformed. It's an interesting combination of ancient and modern, necessary and excessive, luxury and humble. I think it's pretty miraculous.
Martha: Yes, I get that. For me, I wanted the shop to be about taking everyday items and finding the most beautiful version of. I am so attracted to that juxtaposition of beauty and utility.
Jessie: We are liked minded on that one. It’s also about being so well designed, the mug that fits in your hand perfectly or a teapot that pours without dribbling. There is something aesthetically about the combination of utility and function and beauty that pairs very much in ceramics. And I love the simplicity of that. If it works well, it's the most beautiful version.
Martha: Agree, a “utility” item can be the most beautiful thing to look at but if it doesn’t function well, you’re ultimately not going to use it.
Jessie: That's the beauty of utility items. I had a bowl in my childhood that I wanted to eat 3 meals a day in. It was completely utilitarian, but there's an intimacy when something feels that right, that beautiful, that functional. It's a piece of your ritual, and an emotional attachment is created.
Martha: Your shapes are clean and simple AND sensual and desirable.
Jessie: I think very hard about how to simplify things as much as possible. I want clean lines, and unfussy design. I try to simplify a shape and the function down to its most bare elements. I think in that simplicity, my work feels the most successful.
Martha: It’s been so lovely to see the trajectory of pottery in the last handful of years. And for people to truly appreciate the craft again.
Jessie: I think there is a hunger for stuff that feels like someone loved it, that there is evidence of the hand, that it was made by a craftsperson that cared about it. I think there is a return to pottery and woodworking and craft in that way. People are looking for a connection. And for quality. Because that's the stuff that gets compromised in the homogenization of mass production. I think there is a renewed hunger for local, and for things that are crafted and labored over.