The New New England Heirlooms
Slide Show: New England Heirlooms
Our six-state region is filled with talented artisans crafting beautiful (and functional) pieces for the home. But there are a few whose work is so consistently spectacular–the result of more loving labor than most of us could possibly imagine–that they’ve achieved national and international renown. Even when brand-new, the pieces these artisans produce decidedly qualify as heirlooms. And by heirlooms, we don’t mean those dusty, fusty, unclaimed antiques lurking in attics and moldy basements. These are works we covet. They’re exquisite, timeless, in most cases quite practical, and destined to be cherished for generations to come. Here and on the following pages we’ll take a close look at a handful of creations that are well worth the investment. And we’ll go into the studio with the talented people behind these pieces to find out what makes their work so special, and why they’re committed to doing what they do–and to doing it in New England.
HAND-THROWN, HAND-CARVED POTTERY
Though master potter Miranda Thomas has lived and worked in Vermont since 1983, her voice still carries the lyrical lilt of someone who grew up in Italy and Australia and then trained in her craft in England. She’s become completely devoted to her new home state, however. “Vermont is practical, strong, independent, sustainably minded, and self-sufficient,” she says. “And I love the nature here–I love its being part of my life. I love the seasons, too. They test you, and make you humble.”
Thomas and her team create all their pottery by hand: It’s hand-thrown, hand-carved, and hand-painted, with intricate nature-inspired designs. She compares the process to caring for a cow. “You have to tend it every day,” she says of the multiple time-consuming steps involved in creating each piece. But she wouldn’t rush the process: “When we make anything, we know it can last for hundreds of years–or more. So we have to make it beautiful.”
It’s so beautiful, in fact, that Thomas’s pottery has been given as a gift–and a peace offering–to some of the world’s most prominent leaders. Then-President Bill Clinton asked her to make 16 bowls for him to present during a trip to the Middle East, and later requested her carved porcelain Peace bowl, in white, as a gift for Pope John Paul II. And then, “the United Nations Association of New York asked me to make a gift for then-Secretary General Kofi Annan, and they’ve been giving my pieces as gifts for 10 years. Last year Yoko Ono got one.” In 2007, she created her aqua-and-cobalt Water for Life bowls for the U.N. Association’s Humanitarian Awards gala, and a handful of those limited-edition pieces are still available for sale.
Prized heirloom: Thomas studies the work of ancient potters, and cites an 11th-century Chinese plate and bowl as beloved pieces, along with Japanese tea bowls she inherited from her grandfather. “Pottery is considered a treasure in Japan,” she says, “so when you’re collecting art, you collect pottery.”
Favorite Miranda Thomas pot: “There’s one piece in our showroom in Hanover [New Hampshire] that I’m loath to sell. It’s a black carved Ali Baba vase with a black doe. It’s emblematic of the skill level of the pottery at the moment. When I see it, I know we’re doing all right.”
Famous fans: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, Robert Redford, United Nations Association of New York