Listening to the flow of your life can be hard in a city as frenetic as New York. But Danielle Pomorski has found a way to drown out the noise. Through following her intuition and immersing herself in her love for clay, she’s not only been able to build a career that allows her to practice her passion everyday, but it’s also re-connected her to her past and opened up doorways to her future. In the stillness of a quiet room at Choplet Pottery & Ceramic Studio in Williamsburg, we speak with Danielle about how her passion for pottery began and where it’s taken her so far.
Photos and interview by Shirley Cai
Hi Danielle, thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Let’s begin with you telling us in your own words what you do.
Thank you! I am a ceramicist and playwright. I work out of Choplet Ceramic Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I am a technical manager, I teach the children’s program, and I make my own work there. It’s a really special place that is always inspiring me to push myself, try new things, and experiment. I’m also a playwright and theatre director.
What sparked your passion?
I was introduced to clay in high school. I used to get passes out of my study hall and lunch to go down to the crafts room to practice. I ended up studying theatre and ceramics in college and when I graduated I moved to Athens, Greece and took ceramics classes there for a year. When I moved to New York in 2010 I signed up for more classes, at Choplet, where I now work. I was completely hooked. I’m not sure what sparked it, but I feel an undeniable compulsion to be doing it.
Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up and how it has impacted the work you create?
I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and spent so much of my childhood on the lake or playing in creek beds. I feel very connected to The Great Lakes, Lake Erie, especially. The Great Lakes make up 20% of the freshwater on the planet, but are constantly being threatened by Urban and agricultural runoff, invasive species, and lack of effective protection. There’s a huge threat to the quality of the drinking water for people who live on one of the largest sources of freshwater. Every year the algae blooms in the Great Lakes grow worst. My work is a lot of times inspired by the Lakes and these issues. I layer glazes on my plates and bowls to try to illustrate the nuances of color in the water. I’d like to make larger statement on this in installation form at some point. I’m working towards that.
What is your favorite thing about practicing pottery?
A lot of ceramics break, or crack, or the glaze doesn’t work out how you wanted. It’s such a process driven form that you might not know something is ruined until 20 hours into a project. I realize this sounds like a definite negative. I think it’s my favorite because I have been so attached to things in my life I think it’s pretty perfect that I’ve found myself so attached to something that forces me to let go.
What brought you to New York?
I always wanted to live in New York. I used to con my way here via group trips in high school and college. As a person passionate about art and especially theatre, there’s no city like it. New York completely drives me, inspires me, and holds me.
In what ways does the city influence your work? How do you think your craft would evolve if you took it to a different geographical location?
Making ceramics in New York changed my work a lot. I used to make much more barely functional sculptural work. Living in a small apartment with minimal shelf space, I started to think more practically. I didn’t want to change how I was making, I just wanted what I was making to serve a purpose. So I started experimenting with creating sculptural forms as tableware.
If I lived anywhere else I don’t see myself having as much motivation in me to always be pushing forward. There’s an energy here that is always driving me to be productive. Also, if I was anywhere else I wouldn’t be at Choplet, and without Choplet, I honestly, can’t imagine how different my work would be, I’ve learned so much from Nadeige Choplet, and the rest of my creative family there.
You spent some time in Oaxaca, Mexico last year. Can you tell me a bit about what you got up to there?
Yes! I am very excited about this project! Last November I went down with two other artists (Michael Gundlach and Gregory Thrasher) to work with a new ceramics studio just outside Oaxaca City. The studio is called Mogote, and is run by Holly Mendez. The collaboration, as it exists now, is a knowledge exchange program. When we visited last time we learned how to throw on kick wheels and they showed us different carving techniques and how their studio operates. Which was fascinating and so valuable. We experimented with their base glaze by adding different pigments, demonstrated some efficient throwing techniques, and showed them how to use their gas kiln for Raku firings. (Raku is a Japanese firing process, where a gas kiln is brought up to temperature very quickly. Then the pots are taken out of the kiln at around 1,800 degrees fahrenheit and thrown into garbage cans full of combustible materials. The carbon from this and the fast reduction in temperature causes insane glaze effects. If you haven’t seen it definitely google Raku!) We also went to visit some of the master artists in the area. It’s a really special place and we want to continue to work and build an artistic relationship with this studio. We are going back this summer, I really can’t wait to see what it all grows into.
In New York, it seems everyone is juggling multiple creative passions and pursuits. You're not only a gifted ceramicist, but you also write plays. How do you find the process of working across two different disciplines? And why do you feel it's important for you to keep both your passions running alongside one another?
I have found the two forms to really help balance each other out. For me I feel like I have this one very extroverted way to express myself through theatre and then I can spend hours in a room being very quiet, focusing on clay and have the opportunity to say something in a more subtle way.
What is one piece of advice that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out your career in ceramics/playwriting?
I wish in the beginning was able to remove myself and the work I was trying to do from the conversation in my head when I saw work I really loved. When I first moved to New York it was very intimidating to see so many talent people making work in both fields. It used to make me feel a little discouraged. But now I feel so grateful to be surrounded by artist I admire. It’s valuable to live in a city with some of the most talented people in the world. So I guess I wish someone had convinced me to put my head down, work very hard, and not worry about other people being great but to celebrate them and find value in my own voice.