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'Hand-crafted, modernist, luxe, irreverent'

Ceramist Adler adds furniture to his creations


In this story:

Reviving an art?

Artistic freedom

'A pasty potter'


ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Potter Jonathan Adler is expanding his creative domain by designing modern furniture to complement the curvaceous, geometric forms in his vases, dinnerware, lamps and textiles.

The wood credenzas, tables, sofas and chairs will be sold at his second New York store, set to open in the city's Tribeca district in May. He also has been hard at work on a new ceramics collection that he hopes will be in stores in February.

Like his other lines, the furniture prices will range from the accessible to the expensive. The items will be covered in the Peruvian fabrics he uses in rugs, throws and pillows.

"It will definitely be an extension of what I do already, in the sense that I will use my hand-loomed, Peruvian textiles to upholster it," Adler explained in a recent telephone interview from New York.

At a recent reception at Belvedere in Atlanta, designers and collectors snatched up Adler's creations -- rough, simple, smooth, curvy -- many a throwback to the graphic designs and Scandinavian styles of the 1950s and 1960s.

His Brasilia dinnerware mimics the minimalist concrete forms of Brutalist architecture.

Approachable, relaxed and witty, the potter cheerfully autographed the bases of vases and lamps, ranging from $24 to $800.

Reviving an art?

Adler describes his work as "hand-crafted, modernist, luxe and irreverent." His growing collections and their presentations are inspired by the fashion industry.

Jonathan Adler  

In turn, fashion designers like Marc Jacobs, Cynthia Rowley, Todd Oldham and Geoffrey Beene are some of his biggest customers.

One of Adler's fans is Atlanta interior designer William Stewart.

"It's amazing for someone to go into the decorative arts and revive it," Stewart said while browsing at the Belvedere event. "He has carved out a niche that really wasn't there."

The last era when decorative arts were a force were the 1950s and 1960s, Stewart said. "Jon's work is architectural and works well with decorative arts from those periods."

But it goes well anywhere, he said. "People are mixing interiors, and even in traditional homes, people like a touch of modern."

Artistic freedom

Adler, whose business pulls in $2.5 million a year, began working with Peruvian weavers and potters in 1997, through Aid to Artisans. The nonprofit organization based in Farmington, Connecticut, helps craftspeople in developing countries make products for American markets.

Adler calls his partnership with the Peruvians "Marimekko meets Machu Picchu."

Using his designs, about 80 Peruvians turn out Adler's popular Pot-A-Porter line and textile collections. He hand-throws his limited-edition, Couture ceramics -- clean lines on a smooth porcelain surface.

Unexpectedly, he said, his pillows, with their dramatic, geometric patterns, now account for one-quarter of his business, which has grown from one assistant to 16 employees.

The Peruvian artisans have given Adler a creative boost, by giving him more time to develop more collections.

"The best thing I ever did was to stop making things myself in terms of my creativity," he said.

'A pasty potter'

The 34-year-old Adler, who was raised in Bridgeton, New Jersey, fell in love with clay at summer camp, when he was 12.

"My parents sort of expected to come get me at the end of the summer and find a vital, tanned athlete. Instead, they found a pasty potter."

His mom and dad, both lawyers, encouraged him to pursue the craft, and bought him a wheel and kiln. That became his adolescent pastime.

Adler graduated from Brown University in 1988, majoring in semiotics and art history. Afterward, he studied ceramics for a year at the Rhode Island School of Design, where an unadmiring teacher told him to "bag pottery."

But after spending a few years in the movie business, Adler returned to clay. He spent months making pottery for himself. About 1993, Aero Gallery owner Bill Sofield saw Adler's pots and gave him a show. He got orders from Barneys, and his career was launched.

Adler spent three frantic years building his inventory to keep up with all the orders. By the time he hooked up with Aid to Artisans, he was grossing about $150,000 annually.

Despite Adler's success, he said he still remembers the lean years at the start of his career. That's why offering quality at a range of prices is important to him.

"I strive to make things that are not disposable. Hopefully, everything I make will stand the test of time."

Jonathan Adler home page
Jonathan Adler (Velocity Art and Design)
Anugrah Gallery
Jonathan Adler couture collection
Aid to Artisans home page

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