Using a flexible Dolan carving knife to cut oblong spheres in damp cork-colored clay, ceramicist Heather Levine needs only 30 minutes to transform a wheel-thrown ball into a one-of-a-kind pendant.
“I’m attracted to a vintage feel,” she says of the stoneware lamps that radiate eye-catching light formations from the perforated circles. “I love modern too. The cutouts feel fresh and current and fun.”
Spend time with Levine in her Glassell Park studio and you might find yourself looking at the world differently. In her hands, leftover clay scraps and discarded driftwood you might encounter on the beach in Ventura are converted into delicate, bohemian-style wall hangings that line the walls of her studio.
“I had bins of the cutouts and felt guilty about wasting material,” she says of the clay circles, teardrops and triangles she hangs from driftwood. “I was cooking dinner one night with friends and we just started stringing them. Now I can’t make them fast enough.”
(Los Angeles Times)
After majoring in fine art photography and minoring in ceramics at Syracuse University, the New York native put down roots in Los Angeles following a trip to California.
“I took a road trip to visit my mother in Del Mar and thought ‘Wow, people get to live here?’ ” she says with a laugh.
She moved to Los Angeles, got a job at a photo agency and started making lamps in her spare time at Xiem Clay Center in Pasadena. Eventually, she grew weary of traveling all the time and decided — at seven months pregnant — to try to make it work as a full-time ceramicist.
A representative for the Ojai Rancho Inn saw her work at Dream Collective and offered her a life-changing commission. “It was such a great first job,” she says of designing 58 lamps for the newly refurbished hotel in Ojai.. “They told me to do what I wanted. I tried to keep them playful.”
Since then she has created hundreds of one-of-a-kind pieces — lamps, sconces and chandeliers — for architects Emily Farnham and Barbara Bestor, interior designers Jeff Andrews and Jamie Bush, as well as restaurants and hotels, including the Virgin Hotel in Dallas opening in December. She is working on a series of porcelain plates, beginning with food artist Clare Crespo.
“Heather has an aesthetic that is completely in line with mine,” says Andrews, a Los Angeles-based interior designer who has worked for the Kardashians and furnished his Miracle Mile home with Levine’s lamps. “The beautifully crafted mix of shapes, textures and glazes she creates have a cool vintage quality to them while remaining completely modern and cool. Her ceramics often play a big role in my inspirational process in design.”
Levine’s lamps are all custom made in batches of 10 and range from $650 for a small bell to $1,100 for a larger pendant. Her wall hangings, which she tries to release monthly and announces on her Instagram, start as low as $100 and are sold on her website, at Esqueleto in Los Feliz and the General Store in Venice. Customers can visit her studio by appointment and choose a glaze, which Levine does herself. “I am not attracted to subtle,” she says of the vibrant green and violet orbs on display in her studio. “I love color, although I do get a lot of requests for gray.”
Levine works daily until 3 p.m., when she picks up her 4-year-old son, Axel, at preschool, and supplements her income by renting her large gas kiln to production potters Pawena Thimaporn, A Question of Eagles, Heather Rosenman, Betsey Carter, Kat and Roger, and Victoria Morris.
She enjoys having the other artists around and invites many of them to join her at her annual holiday sale, a local event that is almost as famous as her celebrity clients Matthew McConaughey and Kristen Bell.
This year, Levine will open her studio on Dec. 7 for a sale of wall hangings in all sizes, miniatures that are like ornaments, handmade mugs and bowls at “slightly less than retail prices.” Other ceramic artists taking part include Funsize Ceramics, Miwak Junior, TBC, Heather Rosenman Ceramics, Pawena Thimaporn, Betsey Carter Ceramics, Matthew Rosenquist, MH Ceramics, A Question of Eagles, Pilar Wiley, Morgan Peck and Wills Brewer. (A portion of each year’s sales goes to charity.)
Following a career trajectory she describes as the product of “luck and timing,” it is fitting that the small holiday sale Levine once hosted for friends is now a community event that often sells out.
“This was my Plan B,” Levine says. “It’s so funny where you end up. I feel very lucky. It’s such a good time for people to be embracing craft. It’s attainable art. People feel like they own their work, and that feels good.“
Heather Levine Ceramics Holiday Sale
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: 3024 Carmel St., Los Angeles