The Mind of the Maker: Jessica Weinberg, Firehouse Pottery Co.

Potter Jessica Weinberg in her studio

Hi Jessica! Can you share how your practice, Firehouse Pottery Co., took shape and what led to the work you do today? 

I started Firehouse Pottery Co. in 2019 and, at the time, I was planning to open and run a public pottery studio out of an abandoned fire station. Those plans didn’t come to fruition but, what did come out of it was a solid direction and refinement of my design aesthetic. It’s not that my work completely changed, I was just able to focus on the intentionality of my practice and hone how I truly wanted my ceramics to present themselves when on display in a retail setting. Now, years after my initial plans, Firehouse Pottery Co. is produced out of my home studio in Athens, New York (which has been an absolute dream).

The work I make today speaks to my fundamental connection with clay and runs on parallel thoughts — how can I make work the way I want to make it and is this something I would want for my own home? Many makers sacrifice their enjoyment to readily accommodate what’s being asked of them to produce. My process is slow and intentional. 

American Stoneware-inspired jar by Jessica Weinberg, Firehouse Pottery Co.

As you know, we use your work in our home, carry it in our store, and gift it to friends. We love that each piece is functional to the core. What drew you to doing functional work? 

After working in clay for nearly fourteen years, principally on the wheel, I’ve realized that it’s the small things that take a long time to perfect. For me, the success of a piece isn’t necessarily about how complicated it looks, it’s more about the strength of a confidently thrown serving bowl or a pitcher with a graceful bow to the curve of its rim. It’s the function, use, and wear that serves as the final stage to complete my practice.

My pieces live entirely new lives with people I may know or will never meet, and my hope is that they exist with duality — that they will serve their purpose well and just maybe, when a home is filled by afternoon sun, provide a moment's admiration. The character of the forms I throw should be both elegant and sturdy.

Is there anything more beautiful than a big rustic bowl holding a bushel of potatoes, just overflowing and beaming with purpose?

 Jessica Weinberg at work

People in the store are often surprised to learn that your pieces aren't antiques, and the fineness of execution speaks to traditions many believe to be long gone. Are there particular traditions you pull from? 

The strongest aesthetic influence in my work, by far, is early American stoneware — forms that are rooted in functionality and revered today for their ornamentation and folk appeal. From a historical standpoint, these ceramics are not only records of history but witnesses and participants during a fascinating time as well as a period that really relied on pottery and ceramics in a way that we don’t anymore. When I run my hands along a piece of antique stoneware, I revere the skilled craftspeople who made these honest, resourceful, decorative triumphs: glorious, bulging egg shaped jugs and simple, straightforward crocks, some with expressive illustrations and patterns in vibrant cobalt oxide strokes — all marvelous forms of storage.

I pull inspiration from the notion that people were using these strong, thoughtful forms hundreds of years ago, in their daily working lives, the same way that my work could be lived with and used. There’s a no fuss sensibility and timeless sense of design to early American stoneware that I enjoy embracing. After all, I’m living in the Hudson Valley, right near Albany, where the famous Albany slip was produced, and the site of some of America’s first potteries.

Can you speak to the balance between 'everyday' and 'fragile' that your work finds? 

My pieces are all made to be lived with, the nature of their design is stalwart — I want them to be picked up, have eggs cracked on their rims and whisks beaten around their walls. I pay particular attention to thickening the rims and feet of a piece, no matter the function, to avoid chips or feelings of preciousness. The only real fragility that I find my work contains is inherent in its handmade nature and, in the contemporary sense, they are respected as unique in make and limited in availability. 

My Firehouse Pottery Co. creed is: make it simple, durable and delightful.

 Terra cotta by Jessica Weinberg, Firehouse Pottery Co.

What is a material or shape that you're particularly excited about right now? 

At the moment, I’ve traded stoneware for terra cotta and I’m procrastinating on switching back (it’s a joy to throw with!) I’m applying a brown-on-brown spongeware technique to my terra cotta, mainly on larger pieces, for a collection of new works in the fall.

What is your favorite place to eat in the Hudson Valley right now? 

Our local hang out is The Stewart House, especially on karaoke nights, and I highly recommend trying their Bloody Mary’s.  

Last Question: A favorite cultural spot? 

Definitely the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They have fantastic local events, art exhibitions, and initiatives. So much of what inspires me comes from the Shaker mentality and design aesthetic. Shaker architecture, crafts, interiors, clothing, furniture, and palette of exterior paint colors never ceases to amaze me — they really hit the nail on the head and embody my idea of modern, minimalism. 

Explore Jessica Weinberg's work. 

Jessica Weinberg's studio

Photo Credits: Jessica Weinberg and Robert Yula

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