Ocean-Inspired Porcelain Designs by Maria Moyer

In essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection, profoundness in nature and valuing authenticity above all else. This description could accurately be used to characterize sculptor Maria Moyer’s work as well.

Growing up in California, she was inspired by nature from an early age. The ocean, in particular, provides constant inspiration for her work. A recent collection Moyer designed in collaboration with West Elm was inspired by plankton, the water-based microscopic plants and animals at the base of the food chain. A percentage of the proceeds from the “Plankton Series” went to Oceana, an ocean conservation non-profit.

Not limiting herself to what’s under the sea, Moyer says she finds inspiration everywhere. “I'm moved by that which is all around us, but we might have stopped seeing or maybe never really noticed — like the ubiquity and exquisite weirdness of nature. In art—as in fashion, I'm often attracted to things that might be a bit odd or disturbing at first, as they hold my interest in a different way than conventional beauty.”

Though she cares a great deal about controlling fine details, Moyer finds the random and often-surprising variations that occur at 1,700–2,200ºF to be thrilling. “I'm more interested in form and silhouette than surface treatment — in fact, I rarely use glaze and the very feeling of the finished work is important to me. If someone's compelled to touch the work, I'm overjoyed. I was at an event recently at BDDW (where I show my work in NYC) and watched someone ask an employee if they could hold one of my pieces (usually verboten in a retail environment). Once cleared by BDDW staff, the person picked up the piece and, to my delight, sort of cradled it and caressed it, then sat down on one of the glorious handmade sofas and held the piece a while longer. I was so lucky to be an anonymous voyeur watching someone experience the piece on their own terms.”

Initially, it was wood that attracted Moyer to sculpture. “My interest in sculpture was piqued when I was confronted by the wood and stone pieces of Brancusi. I must have been 18, as I was a freshman in college taking my first art history class.” At the same time, she also took her first studio sculpture class and later ended up studying wood working and furniture design. After realizing that making wood furniture involved a lot of math, she explored more organic wood forms and then clay. “Over the past fifteen years, I've moved between found objects, wood and ceramic as preferred sculpture media. I consider myself a sculptor more than a ceramist.”

In her kitchen is a table Moyer designed and made. Next to it, on the wall, is a petite hammer, looking almost as if it would belong to a child. This was used by her grandfather to help build a house when he was 16 and is one of her most treasured possessions as well as the inspiration for one of her pieces.

“In contrast to woodworking, making something out of clay with my own hands, without relying on equipment, is intimate and immediate. I don't even use a wheel,” Moyer says. “In the parlance of ceramics, I'm a ‘hand-builder.’ It was porcelain that got me hooked. Fired at very high temperatures and without glaze, porcelain has both an earthy (it is mud) and un-Earthly ethereal quality. And, I love what porcelain feels like in my hands.”

The process of making is at the heart of Moyer’s work, and evidence of human touch, like a visible fingerprint or two, often remains on the work after firing. “It's the perfect blend of intellectual-physical pursuits — the idea and the knowledge of how to do something and then, finally, the actual physical ability of being able to manifest it,” she says. “The learning never stops and the results vary. Some things work, others just don't.”

Moyer now lives between Oakland, CA and New York City, where she frequently works out of a community studio in the West Village. “It's an old three-story townhouse that was converted to a studio over 100 years ago,” she says. “It is teeming with people and decades of collective experience. There's always someone around to talk with about how one might solve a technical problem.” She also has a private work space and kiln in a house she rents on Long Island, where she likes to spend as much time as she can, and is also looking for her own studio space in the city.

Moyer’s work is primarily represented by BDDW in NYC and at March in San Francisco. Some of her jewelry is also available at Loomstate.org. Don’t be surprised if you see more of her work soon, as she has several collaborations in the works — one with a lighting designer and another with a furniture maker/designer. “Working with people who are the very best at what they do is a great learning experience and a true joy,” she says.

In whatever Maria Moyer does, you can be sure that her passion for perfectly imperfect beauty will shine through.

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