The Chronicle

Studio Visit: Dana Bechert

Dana Bechert's ceramics toe the line between craft tradition and contemporary art. The young designer, who trained as a sculptor, hand-paints her organic porcelain forms with geometric motifs inspired by the pottery of the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. The results—including her new Pattern pipes, now available in the shop—are so expressive, they feel like individual characters. So it's fitting that the pipe will soon make a guest appearance on one of our very favorite shows, a web sensation debuting on HBO in the fall. (Watch this space for more.)

Bechert's studio practice is as singular as her pieces themselves: rather than working out of a studio in Brooklyn or downtown L.A. like many of her peers, she spends her days gardening and experiencing nature on and around her property in the rural Northeast, and tends to get hands-on at night. We caught up with the emerging design star to learn more about her process and inspirations, and why she can't smoke and sit still.

Why were you drawn to ceramics?
I grew up in a creative family with my mother who is also a potter. She worked at a communal studio so I wasn't around the process, but I still learned to place value on the handmade dishes that surrounded me. I prefer working on utilitarian objects and I think that's why I chose to focus on ceramics as an adult. 

Where does your aesthetic come from?
The look of my pottery is highly graphic but timeless and elegant at the same time. I learned this process of patterning from another master ceramicist named Leslie Thompson. The look is definitely inspired by Native American pottery, specifically that of the Acoma Pueblo still working in New Mexico.

Why did you start making pipes?
When I was in high school I made my first pipes. It was obviously a huge challenge to get them through firings in the school studio but I got one through finally by disguising it as a tea strainer. It was so ugly, lime green with orange spots. After the third and final firing someone pointed out that it was a pipe and the teacher gave it to the school police officer. When I finally got my own kiln last year I realized I would finally be able to make pipes and nobody would mind!

What do you like about living and working in a rural setting?
I have a large vegetable garden and whatever food I can't grow myself I am easily able to source directly from farms within a one hour radius. Gardening and cooking are my passions outside ceramics, so it's really amazing to be able to work on that every day too. 
What's a typical day like for you in the studio?
The best thing about being self-employed is that I don't have to work all the time. I usually only work in the studio a couple times a week. When I do, it's usually at night; I spend the day gardening or rock climbing or hiking and then go to the studio at around 5 p.m. The forming of the pots on the wheel is my favorite part, but it's a very spall part of the whole process. The hand carving takes the most time and that I'm able to do anywhere; in the summer that means more time outside and in the cooler months it's in the living room in front of the fire with a movie playing. 

What do you listen to while you work?
Music is essential to my process. I like something with a good rhythm and usually something upbeat. Folk is my favorite genre, like Joni Mitchell or Fleetwood Mac, but I also love electronic rock music like Francis and the Lights or Future Islands. 

What's inspiring you lately?
I just got back from a long trip to Ecuador and it was hugely inspiring to me. Craft is alive and well in that culture and is a central part of their economy. They make the most beautiful textiles out of wool, alpaca, and sisal. I was lucky to see some of the process of making the sisal textiles out of agave fibers into graphic geometric patterned bags. 

What's your smoking ritual?
Smoking makes me really active and productive. I can't smoke and sit still at all. So I usually smoke and organize stuff or clean the house. I also associate smoking with reaching a sweet spot in nature, so on top of a hill on a walk or while kayaking or something. And just about always in the garden.