Get an Eyeful of Portland’s Crazy-Colorful, Women-Run Ceramics Scene

"It’s like the 1970s all over again."

By Kelly Clarke Photography by George Barberis September 21, 2017 Published in the Design Annual: Fall 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

A new crop of ceramicists—inspired by modern design, buoyed by Instagram, and overwhelmingly female—are clay-bombing the city with eye-catching vessels, orbs, and pipes. Local pottery is brighter and bolder than ever.

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“There’s been a resurgence in interest in ceramics. It’s like the 1970s all over again in Portland,” says Martina Thornhill, who hand-builds works like her black jug with volcanic glaze. “You can go into ceramics with very little skill, keep learning, and dork out on glazing and firing methods.”

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Martina Thornhill large, double-ringed black jug, $145; Ashley Hardy Ceramics perforated sculpture ($250), Dent sculpture ($125, at center), and metallic orbs ($38–42, at right); Amy Fields Ceramics black lace teardrop pod ($40) and pod with black fins ($75); Stonedware Palladium and Matte Black 22-karat-gold-trimmed GeoPipes, $120–140


Bernie Sanders changed Ariel Zimman’s life. In 2015, the Relm Studios ceramics artist created a teeny Bern-themed cannabis pipe on a lark. Cue social media frenzy and 800 orders in two days. When the smoke cleared, Zimman donated $2,700 to the Bernie campaign, paid off her student loans, and doubled down on Stonedware—her line of sleek, geometric pipes, glazed in gleaming colors or trippy crystallized finishes. Aimed at women and design nerds, the coffee table–worthy numbers snug into hands better than traditional pipes’ more, er, phallic shape. “I’ve always had one of those rainbow hippie pipes that I shoved into a drawer,” she says. “Not because I’m embarrassed to smoke, but because I’m embarrassed of the pipe.” Now even nonsmokers buy her wares—like the blingy, 22-karat-gold-lined, metallic-finished Palladium GeoPipe—as objets d’art.

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Alex Simon, the brain behind bombastic line Make Good Choices, cast molds of her own asthma inhaler for her cheeky Rainbow Inhaler pipe. “It’s a nice nod to all those asthmatic stoners out there,” she says with a laugh.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Martina Thornhill Hug planter, $95; The Granite Keepsake box in marigold weave ($120), bottle vase in beach blanket/marigold ($76), and Epoca vase in multicolor aggregate ($160); Make Good Choices Lighter One Hitter pipes ($28) and Rainbow Inhaler pipe ($40, at left); Mimi Ceramics Macaroni vase, $75; Covet & Ginger Constellation Serving Bowl, $56; Mary Carroll Ceramics Speckled Geo mug, $28 

Design Duo

“Some people are as interested in our patterns as our ceramics,” says Meg Drinkwater, who owns The Granite with partner Megan Perry. “They even want to buy the patterned paper we wrap our ceramics in.” You can’t blame ‘em. The crisp dashes and dots that pepper the duo’s translucent porcelain Epoca vases, keepsake boxes, and bottle vases are modern delights. The pair, who work in a light-filled studio in Northeast PDX, often freehand or “mess around” with new patterns on the computer, then hand-paint those patterns onto slip-cast vessels with a laser-cut stencil. It takes about an hour “on a good day” to complete the pattern on one Epoca vase. Next up? The pair will tackle porcelain lighting, as well as designing jewelry and metalwork with local producers.

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Clockwise FROM TOP: Ashley Hardy Ceramics bright matte orange pleated vase ($140), yellow mug with white gold handle ($42, at center), and matte yellow stacked plates ($34–42, at center); The Pursuits of Happiness Duotone Orb jars ($80) and Artist mug ($60); Mimi Ceramics Colored Dot mugs, $34; Martina Thornhill Blue Orbit vase, $95; The Granite Dot vase in marigold, $42

The Bold One

Quiz local makers on their fave ceramicists, and Ashley Hardy’s name pops up. A lot. They adore her bold colors, clean shapes, and smoldering metallic glazes. She hand-throws and builds those tall, pleated, electric orange vases, playfully rumpled yellow plates, and luxe mugs between teaching ceramics at Rigler Elementary School and studying for her master’s in education. When the former makeup artist moved to town in 2013, she fell in with the tight crew of potters at Radius Art Studio (also home to Covet & Ginger, Mimi Ceramics, and Make Good Choices). “It was tumbleweeds for ceramics around here. In the last two years the scene has exploded,” she says, crediting her chic Instagram feed for stoking interest in her own line. “I want to keep experimenting. I want people to really be excited about my work,” Hardy says, noting wilder, larger-scale pieces she’s currently mulling over. “Or really not.”

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FROM TOP: Relm Studios Coral sculpture, visit website for pricing; Lilith Rockett Carp vases, $280–350; Pigeon Toe Ceramics woven lantern ($88) and large Crawl candle ($48); Amy Fields Ceramics white pods with teardrops and spines, $40–75; The Pursuits of Happiness Bauble cones ($38) and Voltaire pipes ($75, at left)

See Life

“I’m fascinated by the way things fit together; how textures and patterns occur in nature,” explains New York–born artist Amy Fields, who creates flower-trailing mugs, porcelain bird skulls, and oceanic orbs. Her feisty pods, with their prickly spines and delicate cutouts, were once simple air plant holders. But as she continued to pierce and embellish them, often using a “pastry bag” to create textured spines, the translucent orbs began looking more and more like sea creatures. Fields works out of Stark Street Studios, which hosts 11 ceramicists. “It’s comforting to know that someone else is also there working away,” she says. 

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