The Mother-Daughter Team of Henry Street Studio

Henry Street Studio, Casey Zane Simmons, Glaze Magazine, ceramics, tableware

Words by Jennine Jacob
Photos by Casey Zane Simons

Seven years ago when a mother and daughter, Aliza and Loren Simons, took a pottery class together something special happened. They found that they had a shared visual language. “It’s like when someone else finishes a sentence for you when a word is stuck on the tip of your tongue,” Aliza says of her partnership with her mother. At Henry Street Studio, they continually work on pieces together, working separately then passing them back and forth tweaking shapes. Loren does the finishing touches, Aliza mixes the glazes. Their work turns out absolutely stunning with perfect proportions and luscious glazes. The tableware stands out beautifully without overbearing design. It photographs nicely with food, yet the focus is on function as they are made for daily use.

Aliza had been taking ceramics classes since she was a child and she continued after college. Loren had majored in ceramics but went into prop styling and opened a prop rental company with her husband called Prop Workshop. After taking the pottery class together, they continued to make functional pottery mostly because they enjoyed eating off it. Loren started to using the pieces they made together in her prop styling and then they started renting them at the Prop Workshop. Pretty soon people started asking to buy the wares and that’s when they launched Henry Street Studio.  Henry Street Studio is a family affair. The mother and daughter team makes the ceramics, the son takes the photos and the father does the graphic and web design. Together they make one of the most cohesive handmade ceramics brands around.

Here we talk with Aliza Simons about Henry Street Studio…

 

GLAZE: What is your creative process like? How do you come up with your seasonal collections?

ALIZA SIMONS: Our creative process is fairly freewheeling. There’s an ongoing conversation between my mom and me about shapes, textures, and colors, and we typically take a single idea and explore all possible applications. Right now, we are both interested in incised lines in clay, so we’ll try that idea out on a number of shapes, and then there will be some back-and-forth about which forms and glazes work best together with that idea. I’ll also run a few tests in the kiln with different clay bodies and glazes to see how they turn out. Because we’re such a small operation, we make pieces in small batches, and I love the freedom that gives me to experiment with shapes and glaze application.

G: Your work is so photogenic, how has prop styling affected the aesthetic of Henry Street Studio?

AS: Gosh, thanks! My mom was a prop stylist for fifteen years, and I worked as an assistant prop stylist for a few years–I can definitely see the way it informs the work. My mom and I both like clean, simple shapes and colors, and through both of our experiences with photography, I think we both appreciate the many different angles to view a piece–overhead, into, close up. But Henry Street Studio work isn’t just for photographs–we make ceramics to use every day. I always want to make pieces that people can incorporate into their daily lives, not just for the photo studio.

G: What was your biggest discovery working with each other?

AS: I’m continually surprised with how much my mom and I agree about aesthetic decisions. We share a visual language. Many times, I’ve thrown a piece on the wheel, and not been completely satisfied with the shape, so I hand it over to my mom, and she’ll adjust it by hand to perfect the idea. It’s like when someone else finishes a sentence for you when a word is stuck on the tip of your tongue. We can debate about lots other of things (I forget to clean my tools before I put them away…sorry, Mom!), but my we almost never disagree about the aesthetic sensibility of the work.

G: You create your own glazes, what are some of the challenges and benefits to that?

AS: I truly love chemistry. Learning how raw materials change and affect each other as they are exposed to heat is just fascinating. Mixing my own glazes lets me experiment and tweak raw materials, and having my own kiln and studio is like having a private chemistry lab. The downside to testing glazes is that the trial and error can be absurdly time consuming and very frustrating. Often, I’ll spend hours running 30-40 test batches to tweak a glaze and only one or two will come out of the kiln looking promising. Sometimes mixing glazes can turn into a chore and I have to put on a podcast and force myself to do it, but it’s always so exciting when a new batch of test tiles come out of the kiln.

G: How has Instagram affected your work?

AS: Instagram really allows me to do the work I love. Through Instagram, I can have a conversation with customers and sell directly to them. I can be flexible in trying new pieces, and I don’t have to be tied to a single “line” forever and ever. I can keep the work fresh and exciting while responding to new directions and suggestions from customers! It’s awesome. I would have never imagined this kind of direct conversation between small batch makers and individual customers before.

G: What are you working on now?

AS: Bottles. I’ve been throwing a lot of bottles this week, very interested in those shapes. My friend Alice recently pointed out that a bottle is a kind of trap, and I like this romantic idea of all the secret inner workings which might be trapped on the inside, but you can’t them see once the bottle is done. Also, I made a new year’s resolution that every time I sit down to throw, I’ll also throw a mini version of what I’m making. Just for fun. I have three tiny bottles, a tiny bowl, and a tiny pitcher so far.