Karen Ford is a second generation Chinese American, whose goal as a ceramicist is to enhance the everyday ritual of eating, drinking, and living by making it a beautiful, calm and peaceful experience. Karen has been making her award-winning Asian-inspired porcelain and glass work in her Westport, CT studio since 1998. After graduation from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she initially pursued a career in advertising, but a pottery class at Parsons School of Design changed the course of her life…
When and how did you start making ceramics?
After working in advertising production for a few years I had just had my son and decided to take a course down the street at Parsons. I wasn’t very good at first but there was something really calming yet challenging about working in clay.
What made you decide to pursue ceramics as a full time career?
When we moved to CT from the city I signed up for a course at Silvermine, an art center in New Canaan. I think my teacher/mentor saw a dedication and interest in me that went beyond just taking class once a week. I spent my three hours in the studio but she got me involved in an outreach program teaching 1st graders in Norwalk. I really was open to learning all about clay and sharing what I had learned with other people. My teacher offered me a teaching job a year later and I then realized that this is something I want to learn more about. I was trying to get as much information as possible to keep one step ahead of my students but found that there are so many different ways to approach ceramics that I decided to just dive in and try everything.
Can you describe your current collection at AsiaStore and the techniques used to make your designs?
For this spring/summer I have chosen items from nature to create texture and interest in the porcelain. By using seasonal natural items as a source, this forces me to change designs and adapt to what it available at that time. It keeps the work fresh and allows me to limit my production. I press shells, sea urchins, palm fronds and other tropical leaves into each piece bringing a fresh look to my organic forms. The bamboo glaze breaks in the texture creating an earthy depth to the design. I melt pieces of glass on top of the glaze which forms an abstract pool of translucent color which fuses and forms a smooth glossy surface making the work functional.
Your designs are quite beautiful, but as you mentioned, they are also very functional. Are they dishwasher and microwave safe?
Yes, all my work is high fired porcelain so because of the strength of the material and the firing technique it is all dishwasher safe. I put cups and bowls in the microwave but would be cautious with any thin flatware.
How has your Chinese heritage influenced your designs?
My maternal Grandfather owned a restaurant in Arlington, VA. Holidays, celebrations of birth and marriage and even mourning evolved around a meal or banquet. Many courses of food having significant meaning (e.g. Noodles+ longevity, red eggs are considered auspicious) are served family style at a large round table. My work celebrates the union of family and friends in a communal fashion.
In my personal quest to connect with my heritage, I’ve always been drawn to historical Asian ceramics – porcelain in particular. These works of art are strikingly beautiful, yet their function plays a strong role in culture, community and ritual. When I create a piece, I honor this tradition.
What type of lessons do you try to instill in your students?
Our society is so goal oriented that if you approach clay with that same mind
set you are bound to be frustrated. Throwing on a wheel is not something that comes
easy, it takes a lot of practice to feel comfortable. At first I try and teach them to let go of the outcome. I teach technique and process and the actual making of pieces evolves once the student relaxes and becomes more comfortable with the material. After the 4th week or so things start coming together and they do make pieces that are really very good.
How did you come to sell your designs at AsiaStore, and what does it mean to you to have your designs sold at AsiaStore at Asia Society and Museum?
When Asia Society renovated 5 or 6 years ago I had attended a show at the museum and was so impressed with the store that I felt I had to have my work there. I sent AsiaStore’s buyer Anne some slides of my work and we met and the rest is history! We seem to be able to collaborate on ideas and I feel very lucky to be a part of AsiaStore’s vision.
As an artist it is important to have your work seen in the right place. AsiaStore encourages and promotes the work of Asian and Asian-American artists and designers. It’s wonderful to be in the company of quality work in a beautiful setting.