Clare Potter

Sculptor and ceramic artist Clare Potter makes pieces that are so deeply felt and painstakingly detailed that they almost seem to be a form of nature worship. When we asked her how long each piece takes, she sighed and said a little sadly “People always ask me that” and we realized that for her putting in the time and the labor is profoundly not the point—she wants for you to be absorbed and delighted by the work, not distracted by the effort that went into it. She shows regularly both here and in Europe and worked for most of her life from her home and studio in Long Island. After her husband passed away, she moved to the city—“People say it was brave, but I just had to.”

I think the first thing we’d like to know is what led you to this particular form of expression ... we don’t know much about you, in other words.

When my children were younger I started making things for them out of clay for school fairs—very cute things to raise money for the school, just really basic oven-dried clay. Then we moved to England, and I took some courses for the fun of it in London. I never meant to do it professionally ... a typical story.

I don’t think it is that typical. A lot of people dream that they will stumble upon something and find that there is a market for what they make.

I always liked to make things. The word ‘craft’ is not appreciated enough, I don’t think ... and the worst is a ‘hobby’ ... people saying “Oh, it’s your hobby.”
An embroidered Arabesque throw from BeeLine Home by Bunny Williams is draped over the back of the living room sofa. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, where a pair of Clare’s open parrot tulips are placed, is landscape painting by John Miller.
Clare’s bouquet of parrot tulips and spring flowers shares space with leather bound books on the living room shelves. The Chinese Amorial porcelain platter is a family heirloom.
Clare and her decorator, Lois O’Brien refreshed and repositioned much of Clare’s furniture from her former Manhattan apartment.
Silver objects and family photos are arranged atop a sofa table.
A pair of columns open up the living room to the main entrance hall.
Looking across the living room towards the staircase to the upper floor library and terrace.
Looking across the elegant yet approachable living room.
A French Trumeau mirror hangs above a Chippendale table filled with family photos. A porcelain arrangement of white oriental poppies stands atop a octagonal side table from BeeLine Home by Bunny Williams.
A Georgian mahogany secretary is filled with Spode hand-painted porcelain. Cut crystal decanters, a pitcher and ice bucket are all set for cocktail hour. The 19th century watercolor of the Westminster Bridge is by Herbert Marshall.
Perhaps we valued craft more highly when we valued skills like stone masonry and glass blowing ... skills from the building trade.

Exactly. I mean what I do is not fine art ... but it’s really a craft.

These pieces you make must take so much time—and you do them all by hand.

They do take time. And I think the thing that makes my work slightly different from other people’s work is that I have nobody that helps me. I just work by myself.

Are you naturally a patient person?

Yes. You just have to be. It takes a lot of discipline. I usually go [to the studio] about 10:30 am and I work about seven hours, every day I can. Sometimes life gets in the way ... I have children.
The apartment’s main hall is lined with photographic works including those by Chad Kleitsch, John Hall, George Tice and Thomas Roma.
Doubt?

Always, always, always doubt!

Do you feel guilty if you don’t go to your studio?

People always ask me, “Oh gosh, isn’t it an effort to go up there?” The effort is not going there. It’s ... I just feel like I’m happiest when I’m creating.

Did the your grief and your sadness you felt after your husband died come out in any of your work?

Didn’t work for a year. Absolutely stopped. Everybody said, “You’re so lucky you have your work.” But it was just the opposite because although I say I love it so much and I can’t wait to go there, it takes a lot of energy, a lot of love and good feeling ... I was just drained. It was the last thing I wanted to do.
Looking down the main hallway towards Clare’s bedroom. Clare and her decorator, Lois O’Brien selected a mix of soft lavender hued fabrics for her bedroom.
A painted bench at the foot of the bed is also a handy place to pile bedtime reading and extra blankets.
A watercolor landscape by artist Reeve Schley works perfectly with the lavender-hued bedroom walls. An alabaster lamp and purple-and-white porcelain dishes are arranged atop the slate-colored bedside tables.
Crisp linen and lace-edged pillows are arranged atop a white cotton bedspread.
Built in closets flanking the south facing windows provide additional storage space.
Looking across the bedroom.
Looking into a corner of the bedroom.
Prints and photos of flowers in vintage frames temporarily lean against the bedroom wall.
Family photos share space with an antique brass, brush, comb and mirror set.
Family photos surround a collaborative work by Clare and Christopher Spitzmiller.
The master bath.
And what’s your approach, how do you know what you’re going to make?

Such a great question! Because right now I’m sitting here thinking “What is there left? What am I doing?” It’s like a writer’s block. You know, it’s so funny every time I think I can’t think of anything, something comes along and inspires me.

Your work is careful and painstakingly observed. I just wonder if sometimes you want to do something more abstract.

I’m trying but it’s just sort of not me. I so admire the other.

[Lesley:] I suppose ultimately artists have limitations. I’m struggling to write the dreaded second novel—there’s pressure. Did you feel that after your first success?

You always feel pressure. And there’s always that feeling of ...
The dining room. A hanging light fixture from Mecox Gardens adds a modern touch to the dining room.
Clare’s stunning porcelain arrangement of hydrangeas is the perfect centerpiece.
White phalaenopsis orchids in a blue-and-white Chinese porcelain vase stand atop an English mahogany sideboard.
Casement doors lead out to first floor terrace.
A cleverly designed kitchen was carved out of an awkward space. The wooden floor and counter top give the kitchen a country feel.
A small eating area is tucked under the kitchen window.
Clare’s large collection of porcelain dishes and serving pieces are visible from this large glass fronted cabinet.
Do you feel that your work is ... I’m just wondering about the fast-paced modern world of technology, minimalism, very few objects in the space, do you feel that you’re out of the swing of things?

Absolutely, Lesley! [starts laughing] What can we do about it?!

Does it bother you?

No. Honestly I could see that [indicates a tulip sculpture on the mantelpiece] ... on a glass table.

They’re so out they’re in!

They’re so out they’re in! Why we don’t we put that in the headline!
A porcelain ginger jar with wild blackberries by Clare (in collaboration with Christopher Spitzmiller) stands atop a side table in the upstairs landing. The guest bathroom.
The upstairs library on a floor of its own, also doubles as a guest room.
Clare’s porcelain arrangement of green and white tulips stands atop the marble fireplace mantel. Hanging on the wall is a French still life by Marie Rappleye. The whimsical gilt metal side table is from Mecox Gardens. handsome standing swing-arm lamp stands near a pair of zebra-print linen covered armchairs.
Groupings of 19th century Davenport porcelain hang above the library built-ins.
Clare’s porcelain arrangement of green and white tulips stands atop the marble fireplace mantel. Hanging on the wall is a French still life by Marie Rappleye.
A built-in bar is handy for entertaining. Photos of family and friends line the library windowsill.
Pillows from HB add a bit of pop to the library sofa.
Looking across the library toward the bookcase wall. Small paintings are interspersed with books and family porcelain atop the library bookshelves. The corner chair is draped with a vibrant paisley throw.
You are working in a very time-honored tradition though.

Exactly. You know there are a few other people doing this and they always say that they’re carrying on this tradition but the funny thing is I started doing this knowing very little about what came before. Since then, I’ve learned as much as I could … but I was putting flowers with fruit and of course it’s been done forever.

It’s quite nice that it came from your sub-conscious in a way ...

It really came from me. It was kind of natural. I loved gardening.

Tell us about moving to the city from Long Island, if you loved gardening. How was the transition?

It was just time to leave. I love being independent, the freedom of it. I think that living in the country, and really suburbia, is sort of a couples place.

It was a brave decision.

People say it was brave but I just had to.
A view of the penthouse terrace from the library. Straw hats and baseball caps hang upon the grass-cloth lined library walls.
Clare’s spacious penthouse terrace—the envy of any ordinary city dweller.
Friendly duck garden ornaments top the terrace dining table.
Looking south from the penthouse terrace.
Flowering mandevilla vines cover the walls of the terrace dining area.
A wood pergola covers the dining area of the terrace.
Various species of evergreens keep the terrace green thought the year.
So we teased Christopher Spitzmiller and said he was very posh potter, that he wasn’t the kind to wear big woolly sweaters and sandals—you’re also a posh potter!

Well, I’ll go out for dinner and I’m sort of dressed up and they have no idea! A man will ask you what you do and you might just say those words, “I’m a sculptor” and they think you’re mad crazy and modern but as soon as you say pottery or flowers, that’s the end of it.

And what about your last name?

I never thought about it until other people said it because I’m really not a potter.

How about ceramic artist?


Ceramic artist.
• Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
• Photographs by Jeff Hirsch