In 1998, after many years as a footwear and leather goods designer at a corporate brand in New York City, Len Carella was looking for a change. "The work wasn't so creative," he says. "And I had a friend who was equally unsatisfied in her creative field. She asked me to take a pottery throwing class at Parsons School of Design with her, and I really liked it." That's all it took for Carella to become "obsessed with ceramics."
He honed his pottery skills for several more years before he started selling his creations as a side gig. And in 2014, he was invited to be an artist at Fog Fair in San Francisco, where he sold out of almost everything he had brought. "That was the kick I needed," he says. He's been creating both functional and sculpture pottery full-time with Ceramics by Len Carella ever since.
Here, he discusses the science behind his craft, his upcoming projects and his Len Carella x Kettle & Brine line.
Your pottery is high-fired. Is that unusual?
There's a huge spectrum you can fire at. My ceramics are fired to cone 10, which is 2,300 degrees. It's very hot, like a molten. The function of that is it makes a vitreous clay body that is water and air tight. It creates interesting things in the environment of the kiln, so there aren't a wide range of colors, but what you get are colors and glazes with incredible depth. Traditional dinnerware has bright colors fired at lower temps; those are more prone to cracking and chipping. My ceramics are extremely durable. It's not better or worse, it's just safer and easier to fire at lower temperatures. The almost volcanic environment I work in has a lot of losses.
What other materials do you use?
I use stoneware and porcelain, which stand up to the immense heat. They are formulated for the specific types of high fire. There is a lot of chemistry and science to ceramics, even with just the glaze.
How many pieces do you make a week or month?
It depends on how many orders I’m working on at a time. I’m lucky that I have this background in design and worked in professional environments. It's easy for me to stick to a tight, short period of time. For me it comes natural to think two to three months in advance.
Who is your ideal customer?
Half of my work is functional and the other half is sculpture. The functional work, like platters and bowls, I make for restaurants and chefs and home cooks. The art and sculpture and design work can be customized for individuals or for designers who are working on homes. It's a wide range. I'm lucky to do a little bit of everything.
What is your at-home food or drink ritual?
I have my coffee ritual in the morning. I use my own mug and make espresso. And I cook a lot at home; we love to have guests over for dinner. We make a meal and put in my bowls and set everything out for everybody. I've found that people are yearning for this kind of background and story about objects. People are fed up with mass market brands—everyone wants something special. They want to consume less, hold onto items and pass them down. It's about appreciating and loving things in your home.
Do you have any upcoming projects we should know about?
I have a show in San Francisco at the Hugomento store through March 31. It's alongside another artist named Carrie Crawford who does hand-dyed indigo paintings. It's my functional ware next to her paintings, and it's called "An Array of Darks and Lights."