All images courtesy of Stonedware Company
This month we talked to everyone's favorite ceramicist, Ariel Zimman of Stonedware Company. We covered the genesis of geo pipes, how Bernie Sanders figures into her company's history, and of course, we discussed ritual.
Ariel Zimman at work in her studio
Rogue Paq (RP): Did you ever convert household objects or fruit into smoking devices before you began making your own?
Ariel Zimman (AZ): The only time I’ve made my own (not ceramic piece) was when I would go home to Virginia and make an apple pipe to smoke my cross country smuggled weed in the wooded backyard of my childhood home. The apple was the perfect way to leave no evidence!
Here is the evidence!
RP: Describe the first smoking piece you ever created out of porcelain. What inspired you to try?
AZ: The first pieces I made with a potter friend of mine were hand throw and very much resembled the typical “spoon pipes” we’re all so familiar with. At that time it was more about just trying out the concept of a ceramic pipe, and after that was proven I was ready to start designing. My mind pretty instantly raced to new shapes and how to decorate the surface, in order to make pieces unlike anything else that existed.
RP: How did you land upon the particular shape of the geo pipe? Did you know a lot about ergonomics before you embarked on that piece?
AZ: Once I realized that the only reason so many pieces are the same shape has to do with the method they are made (typically blown glass) and not because of function I knew immediately that I wanted to create geometric shapes. The idea came to me like any good idea, in the shower, and I instantly knew that I wanted there to be at least three distinct shapes of varying sizes that would have the ability to stack. Why? Simply because I had never seen geometric stacking pipes before. Once I set out on creating the shapes my fundamental design principles were:
1) it has to look good aesthetically
2) it has to feel great ergonomically and
3) it has to smoke smoothly.
"The idea came to me like any good idea, in the shower, and I instantly knew that I wanted there to be at least three distinct shapes of varying sizes that would have the ability to stack."
RP: What other art mediums interest you?
AZ: I’ve always been an “art kid”and pretty much interested in any medium that allowed me to create. Ceramics stole my heart from my very first pottery lesson in third grade and despite trying other mediums and crafts - painting, drawing, photography, welding, woodworking, weaving, etc. - but ultimately I always go back to ceramics. There is just nothing else like it!
Now I occasionally doodle with pens and markers, but most of the time I work with clay.
Creator and creation
RP: What is your most favorite piece of art that you have personally made?
AZ: That’s a really hard question, because even the pieces I’ve made (and enjoy) I still see the flaws in. Like most artists, everything I make is just an expansion of myself, no one piece is ever truly “perfect” or “done” in my eyes, which is what drives me to keep creating.
RP: What artists do you admire most and why?
AZ: I could give you a long list of artists that I admire, and for all different reasons. But one artist that I have always been smitten with is Tara Donovan for her use of multiples, found objects and finding extraordinary beauty in the ordinary.
"I’ve always been an “art kid”and pretty much interested in any medium that allowed me to create.
RP: What’s the craziest and/or most fortuitous turn of fate that has happened over the course of your career?
AZ: No doubt, when the 2016 Bernie Sanders pipes I made went viral. In a few hours my pieces were viewed by millions and I had hundreds of orders, for a product that I could only make a few of at a time. It was a real sink or swim moment for me and my business, but with the help of friends I was able to make a game plan and move forward. In doing so I was able to produce and sell over 2,000 pieces, which enabled me to donate the full $2,700 to Bernie’s campaign, another $6,000 to Planned Parenthood AND pay off my college loan debt.
RP: What keeps you sane and centered as a solo-preneur?
AZ: Number one are my friends! I’m lucky to have a super supportive and encouraging group of friends, some of whom are self employed too. Since I spend a lot of time in the studio it’s really important for me to make time to see the people who make my world go round. Plus my dog, Bernadette, is a fluffy love machine - a few minutes spent cuddling with her usually brings my blood pressure down.
RP: Are there any secrets or big plans you can share with us about the direction of Stonedware in 2020?
AZ: No big secrets! Just planning to keep moving forward with the business and my own ceramic art. I have some fun collaborations coming up for a special show called “Highly Inspired” during Portland Design Week, and launching 4/20!