Functional and beautiful, ceramic and earthenware treasures connect us to the past. And each other.
The world’s oldest known pottery – shards of ancient kitchenware found in southern China – dates back 20,000 years. The Talavera tiles in your backyard might not hold up that long, but there is an element of timelessness with pottery and ceramics unmatched by other art forms.
“With pottery I think, back then and now, we are kind of keeping a message of cultures,” says Isabelle Collins, who hand-crafts maiolica poblana (a style that encompasses Talavera) pottery for her family’s famed Arte Ventosa workshop. “We try to rescue that with our work – the significance and the symbols. When you see pottery, you see so many cultures.”
At The Plant Stand of Arizona in Phoenix, owners Eddie Johnson Sr., Eddie Johnson Jr. and manager David Deangelis pride themselves on their extensive collection of pottery from around the world. During their peak sales season, they stock in excess of 8 million pieces. “The pottery of each country is so distinct,” they wrote in a group email. “Mexican pottery is always popular. Glazed pottery is always popular, but the popularity of our European pottery has grown exponentially in the past 18 months, specifically because it is so unique and full of character.”
Desert Horizon Nursery in Queen Creek also stocks a global mélange. Co-owner Kerry Stevenson favors Vietnamese pottery for its beauty and sturdiness – “it will outlive all of us,” she deadpans – but encourages customers to mix it up with “the variety of colors and shapes and textures. You can use the same color palette and three completely different shapes and textures, and you put them together and it’s just gorgeous.”
Scottsdale artist Jim Sudal takes inspiration from the plants within those pots. He works in ceramics and clay to create sculptures, murals – including a custom piece for Muhammad and Lonnie Ali – and slab work. “At all stages of working with clay, from its wet form to its completed and final kiln-fired state, the textures and appearances are wonderful and constantly connect with the earth’s natural beauty,” Sudal says. “I believe this also resonates true with so many that appreciate ceramics. I’ve worked with many media over the years to express my art, but nothing quite inspires me like the endless possibilities of a lump of wet clay.”
Desert Horizon Nursery (above)
19250 S. Ellsworth Rd., Queen Creek
“What’s cool about container gardening is people with really small homes can do so much with it, and you can take it with you,” says co-owner Kerry Stevenson of the nursery’s popular pottery lines (pictured). The pieces are sourced primarily from Vietnam and Mexico (prices vary).
Jim Sudal Ceramic Design
7037 E. First Ave., Scottsdale
The 7-foot “Amazing Agave” sculpture was created for the 2013 San Francisco Garden Show and is now displayed on loan at Arcadia Farms in Old Town Scottsdale. The award-winning piece features 50 hand-sculpted “agave leaves” made from stoneware clay and is available for sale. Inquire at gallery for details.
Visit website for purveyors: arteventosa.com
“My passion is preserving this art because it’s a dying art,” says Isabelle Collins, who is working to keep the vision of Arte Ventosa founder Enrique Luis Ventosa alive. Her pots, plates, trays and more are crafted from maiolica poblana clay and are “usable art,” she says. “I love art, but I cannot eat out of my painting. [With pottery] you can showcase it, but you can also use it.” Inquire for pricing.
The Plant Stand of Arizona
6420 S. 28th St., Phoenix
When shopping for pottery, The Plant Stand owners and manager advise keeping an open mind. “Customers will come here with a very specific idea of what they would like, but our selection is so expansive and diverse that they select something completely unexpected and are totally thrilled with the end result,” they wrote in a group message. “The price range is vast, from a few cents for basic clay pots to thousands of dollars for pots so gigantic you could hide a baby elephant inside.”
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