A Studio Visit with Source and Tradition
On an unseasonably warm morning in February, our team made the hour and a half trip from Philadelphia, PA to Bay Head, NJ so we could visit the studio of one of our favorite artisans, Alexandra Vaga. She founded Source and Tradition as a wholesale venture in 2007 when she was making a few hundred pots a month, and has since grown her ceramics business to include world renowned chefs, sometimes making 100 pieces a day. When we arrived to Vaga’s sunny, light-filled space on a sleepy street one block from the beach, she and her husband, Shayne Boyle, were busy pulling the samples of the latest terrain collection right from the kiln. “It’s a thousand degrees back here,” Vaga laughed, “come on back and see!”
It was warm, as was the feeling in the studio itself. Vaga had music playing, candles burning, and every surface was covered in either finished or in-progress porcelain pieces. Vaga told us that she rented the building right after Hurricane Sandy, transforming the former hardware shop into the studio of her dreams. There are nods to the historic Applegate’s Hardware Store throughout; she’s repurposed tables, cabinets, shelving, and other pieces to make them suitable for her needs. This idea is one that Vaga carries into her work as well. She says “the desire for and interest in craft, functionality, and beauty is coming back in a big way,” with people seeking out special items that carry meaning more and more.
Each piece in the collection of slab-pressed and pinched porcelain shows the markings of natural linen and reveals the touch of the artist’s hands. “Making my art is like yoga to me,” Vaga explained. And when we learned that Vaga and Boyle have five kids between them (‘we’re a bit like the Brady Bunch!”), we couldn’t help but wonder when the art gets made? “We’re night owls—often working in 12 hour stretches late into the evenings.” Boyle adds “come dinnertime, we’re often dusty in denim, deep in clay. I’ll throw on a blazer and Alexandra keeps a dress here so we can nip over to the yacht club right around the corner for a bite before coming back to keep working.” Vaga says she’s in the studio every day and has lately been spending a lot of her time working on her restaurant projects with Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. “I’ve been collaborating with Chef Jean-Georges on a few of his New York City restaurants, creating custom dinnerware and serveware pieces for places like The Fulton at Pier 17,” Vaga says. “He’s given me total creative control and encourages me to be bold and playful in my designs.”
And when it comes to designing, Vaga says she’s always been inspired by her “feisty mother” who is also an artist and her sophisticated grandmother. “My grandmother was famous for entertaining. She’s really influenced my love for setting a table.” Vaga says these ideas of family and connection are really what drives her work. She told us a story about a wedding she attended almost fifteen years ago in Ireland. While she was in this small village, she visited a ceramics studio while Roger Harley, the artist, was out. She felt a connection with both the art and the space and had always regretted not meeting the artist himself. Years later, Vaga got a call from her studio assistant saying an Irish potter was in her studio hoping to see her. Harley had happened upon the Source and Tradition space and Vaga got to throw with Harley while he was there. “Things always come back around in special ways,” Vaga says, still obviously moved by the experience. “I’m always following my instinct and never dismiss coincidence and chance,” she says. Her gorgeous, one-of-a-kind pieces reflect this philosophy, and we’re thrilled to have had the chance to visit with her and Shayne in her studio.
Be sure to visit our full Source and Tradition collection to see these stunning original pieces yourself!