In the Studio with Source and Tradition
Brightening our midwinter table, the colorful ceramics shown above are brand-new arrivals from Source and Tradition. 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. In this case, the artist is ceramics maker and gallery owner Alexandra Vaga Fallon. We recently caught up with Alexandra to learn more about her inspiration and life in the coastal town of Bay Head, NJ.
terrain: How did you begin making ceramics? What is your background as an artist?
Alexandra: I’m 36 years old. I fell in love with clay as a child, started throwing when I was 14, intended to major in clay, got sidetracked, and returned. I've had the great fortune of studying under some of the finest craftspeople in the country both through RISD and apprenticeships. Ceramics with Anne Paone, fine woodworking with Ric Allison and James Krenov, and bronze with Dana Stewart before returning to my first love, clay.
terrain: What led you to become a tableware designer?
Alexandra: I have an incredible love for food, cooking, and bringing people to the table, but the specific inspiration for my line comes from my own upbringing. My artistic interests and my family are a study in contrast. My father is physicist from Muhu, Estonia, a tiny island in the Baltic Sea. His grandfather founded a dairy co-op and they created prize winning butter. My grandmother’s table was set with homemade cardamom raisin bread (“Rosina Sai”), homemade butter, honey, and salt that were all local and incredibly fresh. The serving knives, spoons, and trivets were made from juniper wood and I can still remember the smell. My mother is an artist. Her grandfather came here from Poland as a teenager, bought a small canvas and leather company, and became involved with aviation and parachute technology. He supplied World War II with parachutes, built a jump tower at his home for Amelia Earhart, and went on to save countless lives. My grandmother’s table was set with fine ironstone and silver. She is a gourmand and her table manners impeccable. I sit comfortably in both worlds, and I want my work to do the same.
terrain: Tell us about the process of making a new piece. What inspires you, and how does your work take shape?
Alexandra: From origin to finished work, each piece is thoughtfully and carefully crafted. Raw clay is cut, rolled, shaped, sculpted or impressed with linen, and then trimmed, washed, dried, fired, glazed, fired again, cooled, packaged, and shipped off to be enjoyed by customers across the country and beyond.
When I was at RISD, we didn’t use cell phones, Google, Pinterest, or Instagram. We had a picture library, a nature lab-- you were taught to study history and the environment, and to look within yourself and at your own experience for inspiration. My upbringing, my coastal environment, and the physical act of making inspire me. When I'm seeking peace of mind and spirit, I go straight to the beach.
terrain: Can you describe your studio?
Alexandra: After traveling extensively and living in Rhode Island, California, Italy and France, going far helped me understand what I have right at home in coastal New Jersey. I live and work on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the sea. I like to think that life here is still dictated by the tides and seasons. In winter, Bay Head is quiet. Outside my shop the streets are still, it’s cold, windy, and the air is filled with the scent of the sea. I can hibernate and make endlessly without interruption. In the summer, our coastal towns explode with life. Blazing sun, salt water, backyard seafood feasts, and packs of kids on bicycles going back and forth from the beach. People pouring in through the studio doors, sharing stories of past and present.
Our shop is located in what was once the Applegate’s Hardware Store. It's over 100 years old and now home to my working studio and retail space. It's filled with natural light, salty breezes from the ocean, and reflections of the sunset off Scow Ditch, directly out the back door. Our three kilns serve as the hearth and heartbeat of the handmade production shop. It is a revival in more ways than one. I created the space to openly welcome the community, as a gathering place to celebrate the artistry and heritage of our coastal region. In the summer months, the space often showcases local talent and original art of all mediums. Lastly, tackling mountains of porcelain would not be possible without the help of my incredibly supportive and talented studio assistants-- Laurie DiBiagio, Tom Van Nostrand, and Shayne Boyle.
Photographs by Corey Frank.