The Chronicle

Meet the Maker: Philly Ceramicist Kenni Field

Thank goodness for Instagram wormholes — it was way down in the depths of one that we discovered the handmade half-moon-shaped Demi Pipes of Kenni Field, a brilliantly self-taught Philadelphia ceramicist and a relative newcomer to the smoking objects game. Field specializes in versions that have a psychedelic marbled pattern on the top, but with little time before holiday and a determination to get their work onto Tetra's shelves in time for gifting season, we commissioned two solid-color classics with the hope of future collaborations to come.

To mark the launch of Field's Demi Pipes on Tetra, we asked them to tell us more about their background, their studio(s), and what makes working with ceramics so hard — but so gratifying.

When did you know you wanted to do something creative, and how did you get started in your current practice?

I think I just never stopped knowing. I remember being 5 years old and visiting my aunt Marie, who is a painter, when we both lived on the island of Roatan. She had this amazing apartment on the beach with big banana trees planted all around her yard. That day she set up watercolors for us to paint, and it started to rain really heavily—like the thick tropical rains we associate with hurricanes. We had set up in a courtyard under a little shelter, and I vividly remember us all giggling and trying to wet our paints in the rain, and just feeling so alive and exhilarated by the downpour.

I choose this memory as a sort of beginning of the story of myself as an artist because I like to think of stories as containing instructions or recommendations on how we can move through the world. Also, because it was another aunt, Anita, who reminded me that I needed to be practicing art-making. After dinner one visit she took my hand and led me down to her basement which she had converted into a ceramic studio. She encouraged and praised everything I made from the very beginning, and she gave me the confidence to save up for a wheel and take a gap year during college to hone my craft.

How would you summarize your approach to your work and your materials?

My approach is a mix of intuitive and observational play, and is rarely as methodical as it should be. I’m not patient enough to measure accurately and keep reliable notes when I’m developing surfaces, which has been pretty much my whole career as a maker. Ceramics pushes some people to be really regimented and precise — calculating for specific results, which can be great — but I’m one of those people who’s kind of just playing in the dark.

What’s the hardest thing about working with your hands, and what’s the most gratifying?

It hurts a lot! Ceramics isn’t just a dirty job, it’s also a lot of heavy lifting and repetitive motion, and that takes its toll on the hands and back. I’m lucky to only have creaky knuckles that crack constantly, but I have to always be mindful to stretch so I don’t injure joints or ligaments. But this also gives me a weird sort of aliveness that I feel when I’m lugging around 50-pound boxes of clay, sweating and out of breath.

Cleaning the studio, prepping clay, or sitting at my wheel brings about a magical physical self-awareness that’s deeply centering. I always feel like a totally integrated human when my eyes, mind, and hands are focused on a single piece or task at once.


Did you ever have an epic fail, and what did you learn from it?

So, so many! The ones I’m embarrassed by repeatedly teach me to slow down and pay attention. My lessons from clay include always keeping an open mind, and never getting too attached to any piece or idea because you can’t control everything, and sometimes shit happens. Porcelain also teaches me when to let go. It has a stubborn and active nature, twisting and warping if it’s manipulated. In ceramics we call it “memory.” The clay remembers everything that was done to it and even if you try to mask it, the clay will always react to reveal it. This partly means learning when to correct and when to abandon a piece to the recycling bin, to *hopefully* be reborn anew.

What’s been inspiring you lately?

I’m really into psychedelia lately. It’s not so much kitschy posters and tapestries that I’m drawn to, but psychedelic art as a prompt for gazing, imagining, and inventing. There are a lot of aesthetic resonances between psychedelic art and my love of saturated colors, intricacy, and fluorescence. I’m also mindful of certain cultural aspects of psychedelic art, it’s association with psychoactive experiences, and it’s otherworldliness.

I don’t really know anything about color, besides that I’m obsessed with it. I grew up on an island, and later in a state, saturated with vivid colors, and so I am eternally inspired by deep sea life and construction sites. You can find the same neon yellow on the back of a sea slug as you can at a road site. They are one and the same to me, in the sense that we and all of our things are part of the same world. The natural world is as much the giant Pepto-pink crane two blocks from my office as it is gleaming from a hibiscus petal.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

I actually have two studios, one at Black Hound Clay Studio in West Philadelphia, plus a small home studio set up in my bedroom. While a typical day depends on where I’m making, it always starts after 5 p.m. when I leave my admin job at a local university. I make larger work at Black Hound, which has great facilities and lots of space, but I save throwing pipes for my wheel at home.

In ceramics the making process is very drawn out and there's a lot of waiting for the clay to dry, so I have this tendency to beeline to my room when I get home, to check on drying pieces before even taking off my bag and helmet. I check to see who’s ready for what stage of the process, and decide to assemble them or throw new forms.

Working full time and managing other commitments has taught me to really respect my limits, physically and mentally. For me it means that throwing usually starts spontaneously, and when it feels good. I weigh out 5-10 balls of clay, which become the body of the pipe, and then pick colors for creating the swirls on top of the pieces. Just before I settle in to throw, I usually remember to put on some music or an audiobook. I’ve been loving listening to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.


What’s your studio like itself? And what are your favorite objects in the studio?

My home studio consists of my Shimpo VL Lite, a great wall-mounted shelf system that my roommate and I installed, which displays some of the one-off pieces I’ve made, and a giant work table we salvaged one trash day. The best thing about my studio, other than the convenience and intimacy of it, is the set of west-facing bay windows which let in a dreamy afternoon glow.

What’s your smoking ritual?

My smoking ritual mostly exists on the living room couch or on my bed. When I want to decompress after work, I’ll settle down with something relaxing to watch or listen to. I enjoy smoking herbal blends, and sometimes add mullein, lavender, or calendula to my mix. I enjoy smoking socially, so it’s usually a time for catching up and connecting with my roommates and close friends.

Tell us what you love about the piece you’ve made for Tetra.

Tetra is such a special site, and one that I’ve wanted to work with since I first started making pipes and researching retailers. One of the pieces I’m making for Tetra is a black porcelain pipe, which is simple and elegant. The body is unglazed and has a smooth matte surface, while the packing bowl and inside are glazed for ease of cleaning. The black is classic and sleek, and it’s a favorite for so many different folks, no matter their aesthetic preferences. The simplicity of the surface highlights the form, while the neutral black is a unique color in ceramics.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP THE DEMI PIPE ON TETRA

Meet the Maker: Peyton Flynn of Cloud 9 Ceramics

The first time we saw the work of Peyton Flynn — whose Philadelphia ceramics studio goes by the name of Cloud 9 Clay — we were immediately drawn to the iridescence. Flynn had been making vases, cups, and dishes with a high-gloss rainbow sheen, and along with her marbleized and flowered pieces they struck just the right balance of good design and pure, unapologetic fun.

Luckily Flynn was equally a fan of Tetra, and so she agreed to collaborate with us on a new piece: a smoke set consisting of her hut-shaped pipe nested into a delicately ribbed ashtray, one in our favorite shade of yellowy lime green and one in an oil-slick iridescent black. To mark the launch of the set, we interviewed her about her love of clay, her inspirations, and her smoking rituals.

Photos by Samantha Meduri and Alina Parfenov (product shots) and Alesan Rose (portraits/process shots)

When did you know you wanted to do something creative, and how did you get started in your current practice?
I've always struggled to see myself doing most other jobs long term, so finding something creative almost felt like the only option. I started working with clay early in high school. I loved it so much, and over the years always wanted to stay connected to the craft. After years of classes and studio hopping, I finally invested in my own studio equipment in 2018, which came along with the start of Cloud 9 Clay.
  
How would you summarize your approach to your work and your materials?
Working with clay requires a lot of practice and patience. I love that the craft itself has so many facets, because there's always so much space to evolve. I want my work to evolve with me over the years. I love looking back at previous work to see how far things have already come. I try to approach my work with a light heart and not take things too seriously because there is always an element of surprise, and that's what makes it fun! 
  
What’s the hardest thing about working with your hands, and what’s the most gratifying?
I am so grateful to create with my hands every day, I wouldn't change it for the world! It's endlessly gratifying when people appreciate my work and find joy from it. Working with clay can be a very physical job, and sometimes you're just really tired, or your hands are already raw from throwing gritty clay all day yesterday, so it can be difficult when you realize that you're human and have limits. There really aren't any (good) shortcuts when it comes to the creation cycles of clay, so embracing the slow and steady aspect of the process is important; that's why handmade is so special!


Did you ever have an epic fail, and what did you learn from it?
I've definitely had a few! But most recently, I had a big batch of nerikomi plates all crack in half in my bisque firing. I learned to stop stacking my plates! But most of the time my failures are a product of impatience or just my clumsy nature (or my cats). 
 
What’s been inspiring you lately?
The prospect of traveling again some day. Watching my friends succeed. Going on walks and hikes. Music recommendations. Exploring new streets in my neighborhood with my dog. Cooking and intimate dinner hangouts. Shooting photos with film and collaborating with creative minds. Beautiful produce and plants. 

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
Depending on what I have going on, I might spend all day glazing, or throwing, or packaging orders, or photographing new work, but usually a mix of a bunch of those things.
 
What’s your studio like itself? And what are your favorite objects in the studio?
Well, my studio is also my apartment! My sunny work space sits at the front of the building, and my kiln lives in the basement. I live in the back rooms with my boyfriend, dog, and two cats, so my studio is pretty much my entire life! I could (and have) easily not leave the building all day, because pretty much everything I need is here. It can get a little claustrophobic at times, and definitely makes "work-life balance" sort of impossible, but I've always wanted a home studio so it really is a dream come true. Some of my favorite objects in the space are my pink fold-down dinner table from Jinxed, all of my plants, and all of my friends' art on the walls. I also love my vacuum, like a lot.


What’s your smoking ritual?
My ritual depends on how I'm feeling, but I like to see how smoking affects my creativity throughout the day. Sometimes smoking will help me see a process or problem differently, or just help me slow down and be more patient and present. Sometimes it helps me realize that what I really need is a nap, and sometimes it invigorates me and powers me through a long day of production.

Tell us what you love about the piece you’ve made for Tetra.
I love the colors that we chose and that we decided to play with texture on the ashtrays. I've also always wanted to make a pipe and ash tray set, so this was really exciting to see come into fruition. The pipe reminds me of the classic DIY apple pipe, which I love because that's how I smoked for the first time ever!

 

 

Meet the Maker: Robbie Frankel of Balefire Glass

Portland glassblower Robbie Frankel calls his new ashtrays for Tetra "paintings," which seems strange until you realize that it just might be the perfect word to describe what makes his work so special. Released under his studio name Balefire Glass, his vases and cups are distinguished by their artistic, gestural forms and their varied yet expertly orchestrated color palettes, as if they were conjured by brush. Each swirled, mottled, or iridescent-sheened piece is hand-blown or hand-sculpted, and is essentially one-of-a-kind. "There are a lot of assumptions of how glass ‘should’ look," he once stated. "I try to make things that have never existed before."

We'd been enamored with Frankel's art glass for a few years now, and couldn't stop thinking about what it would be like to have him create a smoking object for us. Luckily he obliged, and created a limited-edition series of Sunrise and Dusk ashtrays exclusively for Tetra, which he makes by layering strips of color into a thick, luminous patchwork and shaping it into a vessel with his hands. To mark the launch, we asked Frankel a few questions about his start in glassmaking, his daily routine, and how he approaches his material of choice.

Photos by Heather Lin

When did you know you wanted to do something creative, and how did you get started in your current practice?

I was always making things with my hands as a child, I always loved creating, transforming, bringing things into existence. My mom was a fantasy-romance author when I was growing up. She brought a lot of magic into the house, and glassblowing was the closest thing to wizardry I saw in the real world. I started blowing glass when I was 18 in Philadelphia. I went to college for biology, intending to study veterinary medicine, but the glassblowing studio and the art school program called too loud.

How would you summarize your approach to your work and your materials?

When I make my work I don't look to past forms or color application techniques in glass tradition/history. I start with colors and raw material and keep combining and manipulating in ways attempting to create effects I've never seen before in the glass world. Often times I lean towards visual elements that are other-worldly.

Balefire's Epiphany Cups

Did you ever have an epic fail, and what did you learn from it?

Glassblowing is full of epic fails, if you're pushing yourself that is. You're constantly on the edge of what is possible. The larger the piece, the more complicated the color application, and the longer you have to work it outside of the heat source in room temperature, at which point you're really gambling. At any moment, a slight drop in a few degrees temperature, and the piece cracks or falls off the steel rod and shatters on the floor. Whenever you push yourself to make something you weren't able to make before, a lot of loss occurs. Then you're left hot and sweaty and tired and defeated and you have to learn from the mistakes, gather your strength, and get over yourself and your frustrations to get a fresh start of molten glass and start a new piece.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

I wake up late with my dog, who sleeps on me while I catch up on emails and computer work. Once we've eaten breakfast, we'll get to the studio around noon. I'll spend the first hour organizing color and planning production for the day. I'll set up my chunks of glass color in the kiln and turn it on so it'll be at 1,000 degrees when I need to start working. I turn the furnace up to 2,108 degrees, turn on another kiln to 950 degrees, and start the gas-fed gloryhole that will take about an hour to reach 2,200 degrees.

While all the equipment is heating up, I'll pull out and clean all my tools, glaze some of them with fresh beeswax, and pull out the blow pipes I'll use for the day. My sweet pup will be following me around the whole time. I'll blow glass from about 2pm until 11pm. I'll take some breaks for water, a few little dog walks, and a dinner break outside. I'm usually listening to NPR, various podcasts, or an audio book. Sometimes I'll put on headphones and talk to my family while I work. I don't often listen to music when I blow glass, my ADD brain focuses better when I'm doing two things at once.

At around 11, I'll turn off all the equipment and let the day's work slowly cool overnight in a kiln. I'll clean up slowly and leave the shop around midnight.

Tell us what you love about the piece you’ve made for Tetra.

To make the ashtray, I apply patterns of color to glass, break the forms, then arrange the pieces into a quilted or puzzle pattern. Each composition is a painting of its own. Instead of a thin layer of clear glass, I back these paintings with a large amount of molten glass so it can be sculpted into a heavy dish, with the painting looking up at you. 

SHOP BALEFIRE'S SUNSET TO DUSK ASHTRAY ON TETRA