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Helen  Jean Taylor ceramics (4).jpg
A selection of plates by Helen Jean Taylor from the collection of Ann Frazee. | Laura Hull

What the Resurgence of Pottery Says About Life Today

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Laura Hull has had an on-and-off relationship with ceramics over the last half century, one that has sent her from Denmark to Australia to do apprenticeships. But after noticing the popularity of pottery drop off in the 1980s, she couldn't see how she could make a living with it and turned to her other passion, photography.

Five years ago, Hull was commissioned to photograph the works of Helen Jean Taylor, an influential ceramics artist and former teacher at Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge (CCLCF), for a book. That connection rekindled her romance with the pottery wheel.

"Jean talked me into taking some classes, and now I'm throwing pots again," Hull said. "It's been fun."

In many ways, Hull's bond with the craft mirrors how the ancient art form (that's at least 26,000 years old) has ridden the waves of prevalence over time. She, along with others, have been seeing a rise in the medium's prominence again, especially among hobbyists, over the last few years as people have been searching for something more analog in an over-digitized world.

A collection of cups and a pitcher with handles.
A collection of cups and a pitcher with handles.
1/5 From the collection of Ralph and Wesley Bartera, this photo shows cups with handles and a pitcher by Helen Jean Taylor. | Laura Hull
A selection of octogonal ceramic plates with an impressionistic design.
A selection of octogonal ceramic plates with an impressionistic design.
2/5 A selection of ceramic plates by Helen Jean Taylor. "Painting these plates have been a glorious moment of freedom," writes Taylor of designing these plates. | Laura Hull
A purple plate with a design that is vaguely floral.
A purple plate with a design that is vaguely floral.
3/5 This platter by Helen Jean Taylor shows an ongoing exploration of related patterns and glazes. It is from the collection of Nancy Knudson Koon. | Laura Hull
A green plate with a design that looks like a rolling ocean wave.
A green plate with a design that looks like a rolling ocean wave.
4/5 This plate by Helen Jean Taylor is part of a 48-piece dinner set for eight people. It belongs to the collection of Ann Frazee. | Laura Hull
Pots that are shaped in an organic way.
Pots that are shaped in an organic way.
5/5 A selection of what Helen Jean Taylor calls "pinch pots," which were first fired surrounded by seaweed and other organic material. | Laura Hull

"I think all the crafts are getting a reboot," Hull said. "There are all kinds of potteries all over the United States, and young people are especially gravitating toward it."

Ceramics is also having a moment in mainstream pop culture. In July 2020, HBO Max began streaming episodes of "The Great Pottery Throw Down," a popular British TV competition series that echoes (and is even produced by the folks behind) "The Great British Bake Off." On NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast, correspondent Linda Holmes called the show "one of the gentlest, the kindest, the warmest competitive reality shows you will ever see, even when things literally explode."

In 2019, actor Seth Rogen began posting photos of his ceramic creations — ashtrays, bottles and vases — to his millions of social media followers. He's since honed his craft and is even selling his ashtrays online at Houseplant, a cannabis company he cofounded with screenwriter Evan Goldberg.

Patricia "Patty" Housen and Elizabeth "Liz" Rosenblatt, co-owners of Full-Circle Pottery in Mar Vista, have seen a swell of ceramics studios open across the Southland. "In the last three or four years, there's been a real growth in the number of studios in the West L.A. area and other parts of town, right to Pasadena," Housen said.

There's Green & Bisque in Pasadena, a place billed as a "clean, modern, clutter-free ceramics studio." Claytivity Pottery Studio, with locations in Silver Lake and Frogtown, makes throwing pots accessible with beginner wheel and hand-building workshops. And a new generation of potters, some of which are operated by women of color, like Cobalt & Clay in Frogtown, and POT in Echo Park and Jefferson Park, have made a splash on the scene.

The growing interest in this craft seems especially poignant during a time when many of us are doomscrolling on our phones and dreading yet another Zoom video meeting. The tactile process of forming something out of clay and minerals with your hands, firing it in the kiln, and then glazing it, has long played an important role in mental health and community.

Unplugging from the internet

Making pottery is a meditative experience, both physically and mentally. It's one that forces people to focus on the ball of clay in front of them, and not on the happenings of the digital world.

"They're sitting there manipulating clay, throwing pots and doing all these things that involve hand-eye connection, and texture and tactile sensations. And all those things don't really exist in their digital universe," said Ethan Stern, the executive director of CCLCF.

Two hands a centering clay on a potter's wheel.
Two hands a centering clay on a potter's wheel.
1/5 Annette centers clay on a potter's wheel at Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge. | Courtesy of Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge