Spotlight: Rented Dishes

Ceramics Monthly: How did you start renting out your porcelain wares for fine dining events?

Careen Stoll: The food scene in Portland, Oregon, is particularly vibrant, and as a potter who loves food and socializing, I felt a natural connection to it that was much stronger than anything I was experiencing in regional art fairs. Innovative, high-end chefs typically get started on a small budget in a borrowed space using the pop-up model. The plate is their pedestal, so I knew that while they might covet my work, they might not be able to afford it if I priced it in order to pay myself a living wage. Offering the option for chefs to rent the tableware seemed to me a natural segue until they got established.

CM: What are the benefits to this practice over selling the pieces?

CS: In part, renting is a calculated move angling for word-of-mouth recommendations within the tight-knit chef/restaurant community. As with so many marketing questions in the arts, it is often difficult to trace what exactly is the most effective at generating a commission from a restaurant to purchase a larger number of dishes. Offering work for rent not only gives it greater exposure to the eyes and hands of chefs, but also to those dining. Everyone can see it in use and can thereby better imagine it in their daily lives. One commission generated from a rental may pay my rent for half the year.

CM: Knowing that the ceramic ware will be handled by many people, what steps do you take to design and strengthen the work for use at larger events?

CS: The work itself is often inherently suited to their environment. I naturally make a plate that is kind of inside-out, with a juicy, fat rim that doesn’t chip and a thin foot area to reduce weight. The pieces are made from porcelain for durability and are form-oriented (no decorative distractions).

When I had to switch from wood firing to cone 6 in an electric kiln, I started using a pre-mixed glaze from the Clay Art Center that meets the industrial standards of sanitary ware and developed a color palette using Mason stains. There is mild surface marking from flatware, but so far, no breakage.

Having the tableware packaged in sensible crates helps everyone navigate the back of the house tasks. I rent to a few events each year, mostly involving a small selection of perhaps 70 pieces. The event pictured at the biodynamic winery Soter Vineyards involved almost 500 pieces, including serving dishes. Winery staff member Rachel Pendragon Gibeau is shown serving the course being prepared in the inset image. The event was truly a highlight of my career thus far.

Photos: One Hundred Seconds.

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