By Tanya Silverman
Nonna Hall’s ceramics show select dualities: wheel-thrown and hand-built techniques, Russian and Mediterranean styles, ancient kitchenware mixed with contemporary patterns. She applies her personal inspirations into the tea sets, vases, bottles, dishware, and decorations she sculpts at La Mano in Manhattan’s Chelsea.
When I met Hall at La Mano earlier this week, she showed me some of her pieces on display upstairs, including a stoneware tea set shaded in a solid, shiny orange. A nearby teapot had a smooth burgundy top half, met by a textured, three-prong bottom, marked by a multi-colored, carved-in pattern that was inspired by the design of a modern fabric. Downstairs, she showed me the rest of the set in progress–three bare three-prong, half-textured mugs–as well as the equipment needed to finish them, like the studio’s set of clay kilns and shelves of stored glazes.
Cups decorated by drawings of insects.
2014 marks Hall’s eighth year at La Mano, where she teaches pottery classes in addition to crafting her own work. One more recent twist to her ceramic style is decorating pieces with drawings of insects. The recurring motif actually dates back many years to her childhood in Turkmenistan, when her aunt gave her both a picture book and coloring book depicting majestic butterflies–the palettes of her premier creative exercises.
Long, binding circular handles are another noticeable theme in Hall’s ceramics, a design she adapted from traditional Russian pitchers.
“When people didn’t have refrigerators, they used these kinds of pitchers to serve cold drinks,” she explains. “They would wrap a chunk of ice inside a piece [of] cloth and put it inside that hole.”
Hall believes the practice has roots in Greece, so cites these binding circles as a type of Mediterranean inspiration.
While she likes to evolve her practice and learn about the new markets of what sculptures can sell, Hall consistently works on teapots and cups. Noting that tea itself is a staple of life in Turkmenistan, she admits that hot, loose leaf tea is one of her favorite beverages year round, and that she enjoys the “cozy” and “ceremonial” process of serving it.
A teapot that’s touched with a texture inspired by modern fabric.
No matter what interesting shapes, modern textures, or experimental colors she employs to her next ceramics, Nonna’s loyalty to older traditions persists alongside her curiosity to explore the unexpected.
All photos courtesy of Nonna Hall.