Like food, art in its many forms is very personal. When I happened upon Jill Rosenwald’s Instagram account a little over a year ago, I immediately connected with her work. I’m not sure if it was the shape, the color or the patterns that attracted my attention, but each time she posted a new photo of the stunning ceramics she makes in her Boston studio, I found myself commenting “gorgeous” and “so pretty”, just shy of becoming a stalker.
Since that time, a friend and I visited Jill’s studio in Fort Point Channel. I walked away with a wedding gift and a few things for myself that were in her showroom as did my friend. I also ordered a custom mimi bowl in the pattern Swoosh and color Prussian for my cousin’s birthday…
In the weeks following that visit, I reached out to Jill to ask if she might be willing to be my second “In Conversation” for The Kitchen Scout since I am so inspired by her work. She happily agreed.
If you don’t know, Jill Rosenwald produces hand made pottery right here in Boston. Each piece is made to order, shaped on a wheel, adorned with Jill’s unique drawings and painted by skilled artisans in colors ranging from Mist to Thunder with 100 hues in between. The pottery is glazed, giving it a smooth creamy texture and then rimmed with 14K gold. Each piece is hand signed, often packed by Jill herself and shipped to your doorstep. Jill’s pieces are playful, vibrant and generally make one smile. Her collection includes all types of bowls, trays, plates, vases, and other vessels, ready for anything from fresh flowers to your Thanksgiving dinner. Bold stripes, toile, trellis and some glam gold are just a few of the patterns available providing something for everyone. Jill also has several collaborations with leading designers, and has licensed some of her drawings to produce bedding and rugs.
Jill shares her studio space with husband, Lawrence McRae who also produces hand carved lamps, bowls, vases and trays. I just ordered one of his fabulous pieces for my dining room table and include a picture of it later in the post. Lawrence’s collection has a modern edge with classic and graceful lines as you will see.
Word to the wise, Jill and Lawrence generally hold a sale towards the holidays for items that are in the studio’s showroom. Best to either follow them on Instagram or sign up for Jill’s newsletter on her website to learn more!
Jill’s story is truly inspiring. She believed in herself and made her dreams come true through hard work and dedication to her craft. But she is also a Mom who just sent her daughter off to college and a woman who is balancing family and career. Plus she is passionate about building community among Boston area female designers as you will read.
I had a blast talking with Jill. She is full of great humor but is smart, thoughtful, honest and real. We had a lot of laughs and I’d like to sincerely thank her and Lawrence for allowing me to take a glimpse into the amazing things they are producing right here in Boston. Also, thank you to Jill for allowing me to use photos from their Instagram accounts to show you their work.
I hope that you will take some time and look at both of their websites and think about how one of their beautiful items might bring a smile to your home or maybe fit into some gift giving this holiday season! Now, onto the interview below…
TKS: Thanks so much for having me to your studio, Jill. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived where you are today?
JR: I grew up in New York City and was surrounded by people who were part of the art world. My mother was an art historian who passed away when I was young. My stepmother is a painter. Both my mom and my step-mom brought me to art galleries in Soho long before it was mainstream. Exposure to art was a constant growing up.
When I was young, I loved to draw and make things with my hands, often creating things in multiples. What followed was my interest in selling the things I had made, particularly door-to-door in our apartment complex or in front of our building on 94th street! It could have been anything, really from arts and crafts to lemonade. I just enjoyed the activity of selling.
My summers were spent at a camp in Vermont that was arts- oriented, but also encouraged a spirit of collaboration and cooperation rather than competition. There was a lot of singing, performing and athletics, but anyone could participate in any activity and everyone was cheered on regardless of their skill level. I think summer camp inspired my collaborative spirit that I bring to the workplace and to my role as boss and mentor.
I attended Hamilton College, which was relatively close to home, small and had a strong arts program. Although I was an art major and did study ceramics, I had no idea that I would end up making a career for myself in this particular field. What I did know was that I enjoyed working hard in this discipline, motivated by one particular teacher who really pushed us to be our best.
After graduation, I didn’t really have a plan. I stayed behind, lived in an apartment downtown on College Street and used the ceramics studio to make clay jewelry. I drove down to the city on the weekends and set up my wares on a cardboard box on the ground, right alongside the break-dancers and the hot dog stands. Nobody was selling stuff on the sidewalks in the city in those days! I was surprised when my jewelry started selling and it really motivated me to make more. Jewelry was just the beginning. Eventually, I started making other things to sell as well.
It was during this time that my father said to me that I should really be my own boss. From there, my business was born.
Eventually, I moved to Boston because New York was just too expensive. I started out at Mud Flat Studios in Somerville where I rented studio space and then moved to The Harvard Ceramics Studio, formerly Radcliffe Pottery Studio. We moved to our current space here in Fort Point Channel in 2008.
TKS: Tell us about Design Salon, the organization you founded.
JR: I started Design Salon in 2006 shortly after I left the world of trade shows that had been my opportunity to meet with other designers on a regular basis and see what people were doing, share ideas, etc. Design Salon is a professional group for women only who work in design related businesses. The concept was meant to evoke the spirit of Hemingway in Paris; you know we would sit around and talk about the big issues. But truly, Design Salon provides a means for Boston-area female designers to meet, share best practices, and learn from each other in order to achieve their personal goals. It is meant to provide a community for women who may not have built one themselves in the area. What it fosters is a spirit of collaboration among women who may not have otherwise known each other.
We often have speakers at our meetings. This past year we had a panel with the title 5 Kick Ass Women Who Get Shit Done that featured 5 designing women who discussed their careers with us. Jody Adams (Trade, Saloniki, Porto), Erin Gates and Jill Goldberg have also been past speakers and we’ve had panels on things ranging from the power of social media to how to do Instagram.
TKS: In addition to the gorgeous ceramics that you create, you have branched out into linens and rugs. Was that a natural progression?
Pretty quickly after I launched my ceramics business, I was introduced to someone who was able to license some of my pottery designs and produce facsimiles in China by a company named Toyo. While that first experience wasn’t particularly positive, it did expose me to the world of licensing which has since become an important part of my business and allowed me to branch out into other mediums such as bedding, fabrics and rugs. Another progression of my business is the collaborations I have formed with other designers such as Erin Gates and Liz Caan to create unique and one of a kind pieces.
TKS: What is a typical day like for you?
JR: My typical day starts with waking my kids and preparing them some breakfast. After cleaning the kitchen, I go for a run, which is something relatively new for me since we recently moved out of the city to the suburbs. I drink some water and then commute into the studio. After a full day on the job I return home for some dinner and probably a glass of wine, followed by some television before I am off to bed. Right now we are watching Stranger Things.
TKS: Is there anything in particular that drives you?
JR: I am always expressing myself through drawing and cannot imagine being unable to be as expulsive as I am. It’s just part of my essence along with the desire to be making things. So I would say it’s an internal drive to create things that keeps me motivated. With the support of my family and friends, I was able to turn something I love to do into a thriving business.
One of the most inspiring things I have done personally is work in Central America with an organization called Aid to Artisans. Aid to Artisans works to create economic opportunities for artisan groups whom we mentor. I have traveled to Peru and worked with groups that have ultimately brought product to mainstream retailers such as Crate & Barrel and West Elm. I am passionate about this type of work and am grateful to have the opportunity to support fellow artists in this way. This type of work drives me as well.
TKS: Who were the biggest influencers in your life?
JR: My family members and my great friends continue to have the biggest influence in my life. I don’t have a mentor per se although I am still looking for one! It is one of the reasons I created Design Salon. I wanted to create a community for designers to learn from one another and provide career guidance to each other.
TKS: Let’s chat about the ceramics and home products that you create here in the studio.
You draw all of the patterns for your ceramics. Where do you find the inspiration for new designs?
JR: There is inspiration everywhere. Being an artist, I see the world through visual images wherever I go. The lines of a coffee cup, the shape or color of a shopping bag, the way the light hits the sidewalk or a building are all examples of places from which I draw inspiration for my drawings. My kids provide me with inspiration, as does my team of co-workers who also are hugely influential on the work.
Are the colors you use your own mixes?
JR: Many of them are our own mixes, but some are straight out of the bottle. We have over 100 colors available in our color chart.
TKS: Do you have a favorite shape or pattern?
JR: Right now, I am loving our High Five pattern…
TKS: How long does it take to make one of your items from start to finish?
JR: Usually we can make one of our pieces in about a week’s time. It’s a multi-step process. We start by taking a piece of clay and throwing a shape, firing it in the kiln and adding a pattern and paint, glazing it twice, putting it back in the kiln and then adding its finishing touch of some 14K gold. One last firing and its ready for inspection and shipping. Each piece is individually signed.
TKS: You work alongside your husband Lawrence McRae who has his own line of home products and together you are raising a family. Can you share with us how you have managed a work-life balance in the process?
JR: We share space here in the studio, but we are separate entities. We are selling our products together, however and they are side by side on display in our showroom. Over the years, my role has shifted from being a maker to being a manager. Lawrence has remained a ceramicist so we really have discrete jobs and responsibilities that make us compatible in the workplace. Each of us has to give 100%, though both here and at home to make it work.
photos of Lo Lacey bowl and Lacey Teardrop lamp by Lawrence McRae
TKS: What is the best piece of advice, either personal or career focused that you have received?
JR: Someone once told me that it was very important to respect your brand. In any business, it’s important to hang onto what you believe in and to remember that what you are creating is an extension of yourself. Be precious with your brand and don’t be afraid to speak up when something isn’t working for you.
TKS: What kinds of advice do you like to share with the artists that work with you?
JR: Similar to the advice I received, I like to say that they should channel their inner Madonna, or at least the Madonna of our youth. What would Madonna do?!! If something wasn’t working for Madonna, I am pretty sure she would tell someone to fix it and wouldn’t worry about offending anyone in the process.
Again, it comes down to embracing only what represents you well as an individual, either in life or in business. You have to look out for number one.
TKS: What about yourself would surprise a teenaged Jill Rosenwald?
JR: Teenaged Jill would definitely be surprised that I am married with children and it all seems to have worked out! When I was younger, the notion of getting married and having kids sounded horrible and boring to me. Go figure.
TKS: How does a creative person like yourself unwind at the end of a long day?
JR: I just really enjoy being outside when I am not in the studio. I like taking walks and since moving out of the city, I enjoy running.
TKS: Do you like to cook?
JR: I do like to cook, but honestly there is not enough down time for me to just “be” so sometimes cooking feels like a lot of effort. Having said that, my daughter is an avid and inspired cook and I love to spend time with her in the kitchen. I do enjoy eating at home and hosting dinner parties. Entertaining is definitely a natural extension of my creative personality. My ideal is a Saturday when I can plan a menu, shop, prepare the meal and then sit around the table and enjoy it with great friends and family.
TKS: Do you have a favorite Boston-area restaurant?
JR: We love Row 34, which happens to be right next to the studio.
TKS: Finish this sentence, Jill Rosenwald is…
JR: Jill Rosenwald is an effusive character, full of energy and humor who is easily and often interrupted.