At the September grand opening of the new Jered’s Pottery studio in Richmond, visitors perused the shelves of unfinished mugs, bowls, and plates, snacked on cookies baked in the kiln, and listened to live blues.
At the potter’s wheel giving demos was Jered Nelson, founder of Jered’s Pottery, until recently based in Berkeley, and a local artist whose work you may have eaten off of in some of the Bay Area’s favorite restaurants.
As a potter who makes custom dinnerware for a list of chefs that includes Michael Mina, Spoonbar’s Louis Maldonado, Rich Table’s Evan and Sarah Rich, and Standard Fare’s Kelsie Kerr, Nelson’s new studio and new dinnerware line is giving any cook (or eater) the chance to dine off the same plates used at top restaurants.
Last year Nelson started producing a line for Restoration Hardware that required more studio space. Nelson, along with his wife, poet and writer Sarah Kobrinsky, finished moving their entire operation from their longstanding West Berkeley location into the airy, bright Richmond warehouse space last July. The new studio includes a small retail space in front and is the only place to grab discounted “seconds,” one-of-a-kind pieces with slight defects.
Even as the business has grown to include three other full-time potters, Nelson is still hands-on through the whole process — from preparing clay to glazing mugs with deep browns and soft blues. Even the clay blend, half of it which comes from California, is his own recipe.
“All of it can become your art, from throwing all the way to packaging,” he said. “But if the clay is done beautifully, that sets the stage for the next steps to become a little more beautiful.”
Nelson has been a potter for over 25 years, at some points doing just about whatever he could to fund his artwork. After earning his degree in ceramics, he worked in grain elevators and horse stables, and he rode the rodeo to support his pottery, which in those days he produced out of an old dairy barn in South Dakota. In the new Richmond studio sits the first piece the ever threw, a small white bowl with thumb imprints.
“For me, pottery was always a crossroads between technical skill and creativity,” he said. “It’s an exhilarating feeling when you’re seeing what you’re picturing in your mind coming through your hands.”
When Nelson moved to the Bay Area 10 years ago, he worked as a potter and “problem solver” at Heath Ceramics in Saulsalito. Through that time, he started designing pieces with chefs, many who found him through word of mouth. Nelson devoted himself to his own work full time in 2011.
Though over half of the company’s business comes from restaurants, the pottery’s next frontier is expanding its retail presence. With the Richmond expansion comes a new set of dinnerware, the California Line, which Nelson describes as simple, utilitarian shapes with small refinements and details that make them just a bit more formal. The line pulls together the elements chefs repeatedly request, such as bowls with wide, flat bottoms that can hold entrees and won’t let sauces run.
Evan and Sarah Rich have replaced all their dinnerware with custom work from Nelson gradually, piece by piece. In the beginning, they worked with Nelson to introduce pops of color into the restaurant’s earth-toned vibe with royal blue bases on bowls and a swipe of crimson glaze over the soft imprint of a radish on platters. Evan Rich said Nelson’s work has inspired new ways to plate food; a tile he created holds spoons topped with small bites like liver mousse.
Unlike the Rich’s, Kerr needed to build something from scratch. Her business, Standard Fare, serves gourmet food to-go and even before she opened, Kerr knew she didn’t want to package meals in plastic that her customers would eventually toss. So she and Nelson, who was her West Berkeley neighbor at the time, collaborated to create small, oven-safe cazuelas with lids that are secured with a rubber band. (Customers are asked to return them within 10 days.)
“You make all this food [by hand], but then it’s so nice to present it in something that’s also crafted, and has a handcrafted touch to it,” Kerr said. “It makes eating and dining a really complete and special experience.”
Nelson compared the process of collaborating on pieces to when he used to create Japanese bonsai pots. “In working a lot with chefs, you start to realize they want the same thing,” he said, “a little place for people to go away and relax in this little curated space.”
“But,” he joked, “it still has to be dishwasher safe.”
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