Crib Notes: Jered’s Warehouse Pottery by Vince Montague
Jered Nelson is a potter who creates tableware and ceramic objects for an impressive roster of clients including Restoration Hardware and some world-renown chefs including Michael Minna and Michael Chiarello among many others. He’s built an incredibly successful and thriving business. I thought it might be interesting to visit his small manufacturing space and see how his environment influences his work.
Just around the corner from Leslie’s Ceramics in Richmond, Jered’s Pottery is run by himself and his wife, poet Sara Kobrinsky. One of the keys to his success is the variety of work that he does: slip casting, hand-built work, and thrown work. The pottery encompasses a 9000ft industrial space which previously produced medical equipment, but now contains Jered’s wheel, several hand building tables, seven kilns, ram presses, an area for slip casting, molds, glazes making, spray booths, shipping, and a gallery out on the street-front. There are two cranes, 40ft ceilings, and seven working electric kilns that can load up to 100cubic feet which he fires to Cone 6 using renewable clean energy. Windows on both the north and south side fill the large space with light. There are shelves packed with back-up inventory, bisque ware, and molds. It’s a massive open space, almost encyclopedic in terms of all the areas of production that are available within the pottery itself.
Scrounging the Environment
The variety of tools and production capabilities allows Jered to collaborate with designers to deliver solutions that are handcrafted and unique, but on a larger scale than a typical studio potter. He employs a couple of assistants who help him fill larger orders, but every part of the process is overseen by him and his exacting craftsmanship. More impressive is that in his estimation at least one third of the machinery or tools in the pottery has been scavenged and refurbished to solve technical production issues. Jered has a way of finding discarded or forgotten pieces and turning them into something useful. The industrial area that surrounds the pottery is a treasure trove of used machinery and machinery-parts. Like any potter, he’s figured out an economic and ingenious way to use the environment around him to harvest the solutions he needs. “Where I grew up,” he said, “there wasn’t anyone you could call or any place to get something fixed. You had to figure out yourself and make do with what you had.” Using reclaimed materials and engineering them to fit his that has yielded some good results. It’s interesting to see how he took those skills and applied them to building a studio using pieces he found on street corners or from giveaways on Craigslist.
The Wheel and Tools
One of the few pieces of equipment purchased new is his Brent Wheel bought in 1993 when he lived for a time in Florida. Up on bricks, the wheel looks unassuming, though he estimates he’s thrown somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 thousand pots over his pottery career on this wheel. He works in porcelain and invests his time also in creating glazes for his range of clients. He’s constantly creating new work, making test tiles, jotting the recipes down on index cards in old-school fashion. I asked him what his favorite tool might be, but I could see that was a hard question because simply looking around his warehouse-studio, you realize that you’re surrounded by not only pots, but hundreds of tools. He did narrow it down and commit to the Bison trimming tool which for someone who makes 100 to 200 pots a day during busy season, a tool which gives him “clean lines,” you could see why he might get attached.
How the space influences him
The studio space feels like both a playpen and a science lab for all of Jered’s ceramic interests and skills. When I asked him how the space influences his work, Jered discussed working with designers and collaborating with them to create solutions. The pottery is a vast resource of solutions which is what makes Jered’s Pottery unique. He can design a new light pendant for client, for example, and then quickly turn it around and begin to manufacture. I could see that the space gives his business a lot of flexibility. Recently, during last season’s end-of-the-year rush, Jered received a request to make 400 serving bowls for a corporate customer who was gifting them as year-end presents for clients and employees. The turnaround was two weeks.
I asked him if he ever turned down projects, if there was anything he felt that he couldn’t produce in this space. “If I’m interested,” he replied, “I’ll do it.” Even something, he agreed, as daunting as throwing, trimming, glazing, and firing four hundred bowls in less than two weeks. That kind of tall order takes skill and resources. Jered wore down some skin on his fingertips, but he delivered the order on time.
The Economic Realities
Like many artists in the Bay Area, finding space to work in this economic environment is a huge obstacle. The warehouse has recently changed owners. Jered and his wife Sarah are committed to staying in Richmond where they feel they have made a connection with the community. Their belief in hand-made and small manufacturing is part of what drives them and their business.
As I left, I felt strangely confident that they would figure out a work-space solution and surmount the obstacle. Running a small business and working in clay requires re-invention on several levels. The studio-warehouse itself is just a larger metaphor of all the skills Jered has amassed over a productive career including, most importantly, adaptability and resourcefulness.
Be sure to keep a look-out for one of Jered’s Pottery Boot Camps he hosts periodically in his studio. Check out his website to see more of his work or follow his Instagram account for lots of process images.
— Vince Montague