By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Nov 13, 2012
As someone who flunked shop and almost had to repeat the ninth grade, I have extravagant respect for anyone who can make things. Real things. In the physical world.
I’m not going out on a limb in my fondness for the work of Frances Palmer, a potter from Weston, Connecticut. Dominique Browning is now several lifetimes beyond her identity as the editor of House & Garden magazine, but her eye is just as sharp, and she’s a major Palmer enthusiast. Martha Stewart praises her. Nora Ephron collected her. I can too, especially if I poke around her $150 and under work.
Palmer originally wanted to be a printmaker, having studied woodcuts as an undergraduate majoring in art history and as a graduate student obsessed with Frank Stella’s handmade paper prints. Pottery beckoned in large part because it could be both beautiful and functional. Soon she saw that it became a kind of diary.
“The clay senses when you’re not mentally present,” she says. “If I’m not thinking about what I want to do, it’s better for me not to do it.”
That’s comically modest. As you’ll see from the range of work she offers on her site, Frances Palmer is always working. And thinking. She chooses the plants she grows in her garden less for their attractiveness in the earth than for the ways the flowers will look when she picks them, photographs them and uses them as models for the decoration on vases and bowls.
She’s best known for her one-of-a-kind vases and pots, but the choices you’ll find on her site suggest that beauty for the 1% is not her goal. She understands that beautiful things can also be affordable, and so she’s designed plates that can be produced by others. The Pearl Collection is produced in collaboration with Buffalo China, one of the last ceramic factories in this country. Again, she’s a one-off --- she’s the only artist who has ever partnered with Buffalo China on handcrafted products. And these plates are, though available in quantity, still handcrafted --- every piece is hand-cast, pressed, and glazed.