On a balmy late September afternoon, Brooklyn ceramicist Helen Levi
is seated in her light-filled studio in Red Hook, attaching handles to mugs she’s recently thrown. The space (coated in a thin layer of clay dust, as all true ceramics studios should be), is lined with tables and shelves that hold countless clay and ceramic objects in various states of finish. “It was always just a hobby that I loved, but I never conceptualized it as a business move,” Levi tells me.
In fact, a little over four years ago, she hadn’t even dreamt up the thriving operation at her fingertips. Back then, Levi was somewhat adrift in her hometown of New York. She had a degree in photography but little in the way of proper employment—she’d quit a waitressing job, and seen the two schools where she’d been teaching pottery shutter. “I didn’t have much going on,” she admits. But that all changed after a fateful fall day in 2013.
At a Steven Alan pop-up store event in Manhattan, she met the owner of the upscale fashion chain. Mr. Alan was about to open a home store. When he learned that the young New Yorker was a potter, he asked to see her wares.
Levi hadn’t documented her ceramics at that point. She went home and photographed whatever she had: a motley assortment of cups, mugs, bowls, and planters. “It seemed like such a long shot, but he placed an order,” she says.
“Once I got that order, I really gave everything I had to it,” she explains of the lucky break that would lead to a new career. “I was lit on fire.”
Since then, her name has become synonymous with a line of signature, handmade vessels: nature-inspired stoneware mugs, cups, dishes, and planters made from various colored clays that she combines to develop soft, marbled swirls. As those experienced in the rigorous (and tedious) processes of ceramics can attest to, each piece takes patience, care, and time—seven to 10 days alone for a mug, for example, to allow for drying and firing.