Inside her light- lled barn studio, ceramist Frances Palmer stays elbow-deep in clay and contentment.
Frances Palmer's bespoke pottery is coveted by those who appreciate beauty with a sense of playfulness. A New Jersey native, Frances studied art history at both Barnard and Columbia. Though her initial focus was printmaking, she was inspired by fellow Connecticut artists to try her hand at pottery. It stuck and Frances Palmer Pottery was born. Her unique ceramics have been featured by top design press worldwide. When Frances not occupied at her wheel, she may be found cooking, perfecting her photography, growing her prized dahlias (“a geometric wonder”) or tending to the busy bees in the hive she keeps. Here, she shares her thoughts on design, inspiration, and happiness.
What is important to you in a work space?
My studio is filled with light and space. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful barn to work in. As it is all mine, I can leave projects in various stages and not have to move things until they are ready.
Do you know what you’ll be making when you start the day?
I try to have an agenda every day, however, as I work by myself, certain aspects such as answering emails, packing orders, dealing with the bees (with the help of my bookkeeper/ beekeeper Joan) and working in the garden, all transpire to affect the amount of work that I am able to produce. I don’t count how many pieces I make and some can be time consuming to construct, so I do the best that I can.
What is your process for creating a ceramic?
I first sketch out the shape in my notebook, wedge up clay, sit at the wheel, and construct a form. Then, if it is a pedestal or pot with multiple parts, I throw this as well to keep the clay drying at the same rate. When the pieces are leather hard, I trim the parts and then put them together with slip. When the piece is dry, the rings begin. First the pot is bisqued and then can go through numerous glazing and ring stages. A good deal also depends on the clay body, as the porcelain, terracotta, and earthenware have different personalities and have to be handled and fired differently.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I mostly listen to audiobooks while I work. Listening to a book, especially with a great voiceover, can be transportive.
Are there any pieces that are particularly special to you?
I do keep certain pots and not for a grand reason. There is usually something special in the form or glaze that appeals to me and I don’t wish to give it up. These are usually quirky, but I know that they won’t be replicated, so I have them in the studio to use for flowers.
When you wish to feel inspired, where do you go, what do you do?
Just being in the barn every day and having a good work flow can be inspiring. Going to museums and travel opens up the mind and gives a change of scene. My family and I went to Athens for Christmas and it was incredible to study Greek pottery of all centuries in the land where it was created. The Acropolis was moving, stunning, and I’ll never forget it.
What makes you happy about your work?
I love throwing pots. I am happy when people live with my pieces and hopefully the pots bring them joy.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Begin something and follow through to the end.
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