In the Studio with Frances Palmer

FRANCES PALMER is a stay-at-home mom with a full-time career.

FrancesPalmer

She and her husband and their three sons live in a simple but gracious Civil War-era colonial on six acres in Weston, Connecticut.

Shortly after moving to this historic Fairfield County town, Frances found that she wasn't sure what to do with her time besides raising her family & tending to her garden. 

Ancient Studio by Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

"I signed up for a [pottery] class in New Canaan," she says, with hopes of making some vases for her flowers.

Her career with clay was born when she realized she had found her artistic medium. She promptly purchased a used wheel and kiln and began experimenting.

As Frances happily explored this newfound love, she soon realized that she needed more space. “My husband decided to find an old building for me,” she said. He found a disassembled 1790 house from Bethel, Conn., that looked like a barn and was perfectly sized for their site, and they had it reassembled on their property.

Frances Palmer studio by Christopher Capozziello for NYTimes

With a coffee cup of her own design in one hand, she heads through her mudroom (“It’s a mess. Close your eyes!”) out to her studio,  “I have a 30-second commute!” 

In this verdant section of Fairfield county with a homegrown garden of giant dahlias (a specialty), sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, tulips, and calendulas to view as she works,

FrancesPalmerPrinceNoir

Frances has forged an ideal workspace, whiling away days in the company of Flora the cat and Sam the dog, books on tape playing in the background as she sculpts collections. “I just finished ‘Anna Karenina,’ ” she said. “Tolstoy teaches a lot about organic farming.”

via Hartford Courant 2009

Vases, platters, plates, mugs and teapots — finished and unfinished — line the broad tables and shelves. Light filtered through autumn leaves streams in the window closest to one of her pottery wheels. The antique plank building out back that looks like an old icehouse is home to a gas-fired kiln.

at work enjoying life

"I sit down at the wheel just about every day, and I never get tired of doing that.  I look at a lot of contemporary photography for inspiration; I like the way that artists friends Steve Orr and Marrion Brenner photograph objects, they have a great way of seeing things."

Frances Palmer studio 2  by Christopher Capozziello for NYTimes

"What I like about ceramics is that there's a certain amount of randomness that you have no control over. The process transforms it in a way you don't always foresee."

She says she's learned not to rush the process, which includes multiple glazings and firings, but to let each piece develop in its own way, even as she works on other pieces.

"It's a ballet of letting it get to the right state." 

Once a piece achieves a certain stage of dryness, Palmer adds what she calls her "doo-dahs."

Tiny pearls of clay, folded or fringed edges, or clay flowers made from plaster casts of the blossoms in the riotously colorful garden she maintains just outside the studio.  

Frances Palmer at the wheel by Stephen Dunn for Hartford Courant

There’s a photography corner where there is wonderful natural light and
once the pieces are finished, she often photographs them with the flowers from her garden, which features dahlias of all shapes, colors and sizes in the fall.

Vogue editors wishlist!

Frances takes all the pictures used on her website and in her catalogs. She finds that people can visualize the vases in their homes better when they see them displayed with flowers.

"I like my work very plain, but [customers] want me to put all sorts of things on." 

The majority of her work is done on commission for private clients. She often work with interior designers in a collaborative setting on behalf of their clients, and also receives commissions from various stores like Neiman Marcus & Barneys.

“It was never my intention to be a production potter,” Palmer notes. “I wanted to have fun doing something new every day and I wanted to sell directly to the people who would use my work.”

After years of creating handmade pieces and building her reputation, Frances decided in 2005 that she wanted to find a factory that could manufacture china based on her work. 

The result of her initiative is the Frances Palmer Pearl Collection, a line of vitreous china that is dishwasher-, microwave- and oven-safe.

The collection has the eccentricity of her handmade pieces but is as durable as diner china because the pieces are made the same way. The company makes molds from her hand-thrown prototypes, and because each piece is finished by hand, no two are exactly the same.

When Frances needs a break from her work, she tends the garden outside the studio door. "Though, lots of times, I just come out here and stand." She says she can’t imagine running her business and life any other way.

"Gardening will teach you patience.  Pots are the same way.  You have to wait until they're ready to take shape or trim or fire." Frances Palmer

Frances Palmer

Photographs and information courtesy of Frances Palmer, The New York Times and Hartford Courant

16 comments:

Coty Farquhar said...

Frances is so creative and what a wonderful workshop.

I especially love the vase with all the flowers, very, very beautiful.

and...........oh my goodness, you know I'm a sucker for Dahlias, just look at her Dahlias.

Lisa this is such a great story.

xxx Coty

Teresa Hatfield said...

Beautiful work! Such a nice post!
Teresa

christina said...

I am in love! These are just beautiful!

Christina :)

Chic Coles said...

Thank you so much for the indroduction of Frances
Palmer. Her pottery is so beautiful. We love her studio and that flower garden, amazing. The "doo-dahs" are such a nice touch.

Jo said...

It's absolutly lovely! She has such a beautiful talent and her creations are amazing. I would to have any one of the pieces you shared. I love how you featured the spring bulbs and blooms.

Jo

Renae said...

Her designs are perfection. She has a beautiful talent and I like her attention to detail and the patience to go through the steps necessary for the ultimate design.
xx

JMW said...

Okay, I think I want to grow up to be Frances! How I would love a space like her studio. Her work is wonderful.

Debra Phillips said...

i want to be francis! oh, to have a vintage building within 30 seconds of home where one crafts their art.

i will look into purchasing a piece to capture the essence of francis.

thank you for the introduction liosa

debra

Michelle said...

What an amazing artist and I'm totally drooling over her studio! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post!

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I say Jonathan Adler step aside. I say this with all honesty, I adore Mrs. Palmer's work. Her creations would fit nicely into any decor, traditional to contemporary. I envy her though, to find that perfect of a fit would be truly remarkable and for-filling. Thanks for the great intro Lisa. xx

Unique Unique Design said...

What a talented women! Her work is fabulous. So glad you shared her talent with us.
marcie

Unique Unique Design said...

oops, slip of the fingers...I meant woman.
marcie

Lila said...

Wow, her pottery is absolutely amazing. What an accomplished woman.
Lila Ferraro
Queen Bedroom Sets

Anne Marie said...

she is so creative........and i remember an ad in a magazine about her life.....it looks so dreamy with pottery about in the loft like that, and i would really like to own a piece of her art someday.....

and i would surely love to make my own too........

hope you've been well Lisa....wanted to stop over.......

take care.
anne marie

Lauren said...

oh my goodness what gorgeous pieces. she's so talented. One day I'd love to be able to have something by her- just perfection.

Best,
Lauren

Karena said...

A dream come true to have the wonderful estate and studio!! Her work is astounding. Where are her new production pieces found?

xoxo
Karena
Art by Karena