Craft Culture: Hand-thrown tableware from Ceramic Chinn

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Photo by Tj Turner

“My intent was always to make tableware, but I didn’t dedicate the time to making sense out of it until the Heyday order,” says Chinn, referring to the collaboration he struck up with the Lyn-Lake restaurant in 2014. “That order gave me a reason to give tableware the attention it needed [in order] to start to gel for me.”

Over two years, Chinn created more than 200 plates and bowls in shades of white, black, and dark brown for the award-winning restaurant. Functionality drove his process. Not only did the tableware have to provide a neutral backdrop for carefully crafted food, it also had to survive the restaurant’s commercial dishwasher. But utility wasn’t the only voice that eventually came through in Chinn’s final products.

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Photo by Tj Turner

“I make handmade clay objects in a world full of inexpensive, uniform, factory-made objects. No one needs handmade clay objects to get by,” Chinn says. “Those of us making things by hand are offering something more than just utility. We offer a historic connection to the past, as well as a personal connection to the maker.”

Whether it’s an indent in the clay from his thumb, a fingerprint in the glaze, or a slight shift in the shape or feel of a bowl, each piece embodies its own character.

“Mass-produced objects tend to allow us to ignore details. Any bowl or mug will do; they are all the same,” he says. “Handmade bowls or mugs provide the chance for you to have a favorite one. The act of having your favorite tea, in your favorite mug, in your favorite spot, at your favorite time of day seems to be a more intentional and meaningful way to spend your time.”

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Photo by Tj Turner

Building on his experience with Heyday, Chinn continues to expand his tableware line. At home in St. Paul, he slips on a pair of green Crocs and descends a flight of stairs into his basement studio. The space is no more than 10 feet wide, and every bin, table, drying rack, and shelf is coated in a thin dusting of white powder. Clay splatter covers everything.

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The ceramicist grabs a ball of clay and smacks it down onto the center of the wheel. A quiet hum fills the room as the electric wheel begins to turn. “It’s meditative. I like that flow,” Chinn says. “That’s what is attractive about throwing. You can get into this rhythm.”

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Photo by Tj Turner

It’s not unlike the relationship that forms between friends over time—the ebb and flow between two unique beings, each offering something different to an outcome. “The artist is part conductor, because we determine who says what and how much,” Chinn says of his approach to shaping his pieces. “It is important to me to acknowledge each of the ‘voices’ [at play], because that is what distinguishes handmade work from factory-made work.”

Chinn says he feels like he’s finally discovering a voice of his own when it comes to tableware, but emphasizes that there are always new ways to experiment, new paths to explore. So, for now, he’s leaving the conversation open-ended.

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