The sight of a bell can raise even the grumpiest of spirits, especially now as we confront 24/7 post-election news cycles and endless social media noise.
And its focused sound lends itself to clarity and meditation.
Hung as decor both indoors and out, bells are increasingly popular as functional art: popping up in homes, offices, hotels and even hospitals.
Maybe it's because there's something almost primeval about a bell's bucolic symbolism that resonates across cultures and epochs.
"Humans in all cultures have used bells to mark the beginnings and endings of great events and ceremonies, to ring in times of war and peace, and, because of that, bells have become ingrained in the ritual life of humankind," says Cameron Petke, a ceramic art history expert who specializes in creating Eastern temple bells out of his Baked Clay Studio in Maryland and counts Martha Stewart among his many fans.
"I love that bells create a sense of quiet relaxation in a space and their sound can help drop people's shoulders."
Brooklyn-based ceramic artist Michele Quan of MQuan Studio agrees: Bells "seem to be embedded in our psyche as something deeply meaningful and resounding, their meaning universal and independent of specific religions or cultures," she says. Clients, she adds, often speak of bells bringing them "a feeling of true peace and respite."
As we prepare to ring in the holidays and a new year, here's a look at how imaginative ceramic designers put their unique spin on the humble bell:
Brooklyn-based ceramic artist and designer Michele Quan hand-molds scores of sublime ceramic stonewear bells in a profusion of shapes, sizes, colors and prices for her MQuan Studio. The modern ringers are hand-painted, hang from hemp rope and use reclaimed wood clappers. Bells shown range from $275 and up. mquan.com
Ceramic artist Beth Katz's Mount Washington studio is brimming with her graceful, handmade bells. Raised in Topanga Canyon's 1970s counterculture, she has developed a signature style that mixes Japanese wabi-sabi with the simplicity of Scandinavian design and sports delightful, neutral, muted colors. Her bells, sold individually, start at $90. mtwashingtonpottery.com
Primitive meets modern
Angeleno Meredith Metcalf throws her beauteous bells (along with lamps, plant pots, bowls) in her Highland Park studio, set up behind her house. A mixture of loose and primitive with modern and early styles, her ceramic blue bells drip from a serendipitous self-discovered glaze technique. $100-$250. mmhp.squarespace.com
Arizona artisans produce one-of-a-kind ceramic bells from molds prepped with powdering oxides, which create the beautiful and sundry coloration patterns in Cosanti's otherworldly bells and chimes. The late architect Paolo Soleri designed many of the original molds. $289. cosanti.com
Ceramic artist Cameron Petke makes a modern interpretation of the Eastern temple bell. Sizes range from 12 inches to 26 inches, and the wheel-thrown bells come in a maze of outer surfaces: masking-glaze-resist to smoked beeswax, smoked fire, Japanese marbled neriage or a technique he calls "graffiti," shown here, with numerous layered markings and firings. $500-$1,500. bakedclaystudio.com
Ceramic artist and designer Jennifer Prichard's massive dangling white bell art piece channels New York's Hamptons. Made of up hundreds of sumptuous rope-strung, hand-wrapped bells, it dangles from the ceiling without sound. Price upon request. jpricharddesign.com
Born and raised in Brazil of South Korean heritage, artist Re Jin Lee makes a sweet trio of tiny white ceramic bells that range in size from 3 inches to 4.5 inches and are roped with a thick, braided, jute loop yarn. $98 each bell (driftwood stick not included). bdbny.com
Van Nuys artist Brenda Holzke's prize "Sounds of the Canyon" bell installation art piece utilizes stonewear clay, hemp, leather and metal. It's for indoor use only. Price upon request. brendaholzke.com
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