In this semi-regular column, we profile local crafters whose wares we love.
When it comes to functional art, ceramicists get little respect. Craft a bulbous sculpture of a person or a face and the viewer might stop and gawk. Craft a bowl or a pot and sometimes the best you can hope for is someone saying, "Oh, that's nice."
Heather Rae Morton is as sociable and congenial as any South Park shopkeeper. The owner of Black Phoebe Ceramics doesn't automatically expect people (including this writer) to know just how long and arduous the process of making the items in her store can be, but she's quick to respond when asked about it.
"I spend a lot of time just researching the chemistry. It takes testing and each glaze can take hours and rounds and rounds of testing to get it right," says Morton, who named her business after a breed of bird that she found nesting in her studio. "People who know about pottery will always ask me, 'Wow, how did you do this?'"
The difference is, indeed, in those glazes. The time spent perfecting the mix and the application has resulted in pieces that look both rustic and contemporary. To create just a few of her bowls and mugs involves constantly monitoring the kiln, as well as a multi-step slow-cooling process. Since moving to San Diego from Philadelphia in 2010, she's been commissioned to do more commercial work like the cups at Little Lion Cafe in Ocean Beach and working with local design team Bells & Whistles to create custom ceramic lampshades for the Broken Spanish restaurant in Los Angeles.
A lot of her business at the Black Phoebe store (1931 30th St.) comes from moms picking their kids up at the neighboring preschool or from patrons waiting for a table at Big Kitchen Café. She's made enough of a name for herself that almost as soon as she creates something it usually sells. She's hoping to hire more help in order to streamline the production process and create more batches of the items. Still, she says she'll always do the glazing herself and that the items will always be artfully limited.
"Before I even have time to put something on the website, I'm getting messages on my Instagram from people asking how they can buy it," Morton says. "Each one is totally different. Even if it's part of a set, they're all one-of-a-kind."