It would be fair to call Brooklyn-based potter Helen Levi a magician on the wheel. There's nothing like seeing a cup, a plate, a bowl, a vase, come to life before your eyes like it does in her studio. Levi is one of many emerging urban potters in the contemporary home goods industry, and her roots on the wheel go deep. Born and bred in New York, Levi has been throwing pots since childhood, although it wasn't always her dream to mold her career out of clay.
Levi's dreams lay behind the camera, but she hit a wall that many creatives encounter while trying to turn their passions into jobs: "I couldn't figure out either how to make money or how to do what I love," Levi explains. "I started to get burned out because I was so tied to it as my expression, and the idea of doing just a job—a job like a catalog shoot—was depressing to me."
A run-in with Steven Alan at his store during "a kind of bummer time" sparked something that had lain dormant inside Levi. "I saw a beautiful handmade bowl. I asked him about it and we started talking. Before that, I really was not aware that this type of job even existed. I didn't know people were making this kind of stuff as a living. I had nothing going on, and so I thought, 'OK, I'll just try this.'" Steven Alan was the first store to carry her goods, and three years later, Levi is leading a vanguard of emerging ceramicists which stretches from coast to coast.
You might recognize her work from her Gilded Eye series—the planters, mugs, and plates with gold luster eyes might have stared back at you from your Pinterest board—which were inspired by a class she once taught to kids and among the first pieces she ever made. Or her Artist's Mug, a splatter-painted series that has been shared all across Instagram, and beyond. Or even her marbled pieces ("probably my favorite to throw"), which are made on the wheel using multiple colors and types of clay.
But as artful as her pieces are, they are meant to be used and loved—not locked up in a cabinet and/or stared at from afar. "I don't treat each piece so preciously," she says. "It makes me a little sad when people have a piece up on their shelf because they don't want it to break. I want to give you a mug you can grab and enjoy."
Helen Levi's ceramics can be purchased online at helenlevi.com.