The making of functional tableware forms comes in progressive stages of skill and creative evolution: cupboard staples like plates, bowls, cups, and pitchers; advanced kitchen vessels like teapots, batter bowls, ewers, large serving platters, casseroles, butter dishes, citrus juicers, pour-over coffee sets, and lidded canisters; extravagant tableware including chargers, salt cellars, goblets, vases, cake stands, and oyster and egg trays; and finally, über functional ware such as Mark Cole’s taco tray (1), Keith Phillips’ pancaker (2), and Sumi von Dassow’s self-cooling, multi-piece ceramic picnic sets (3), and in this issue, Adrienne Eliades’ cookie tray with a dipping bowl for milk.
The first stage of pottery making is the one you learn by trial and error through countless hours spent practicing forms after class and by watching endless online throwing videos. In the second stage, you’re stretching your skills, pushing pottery’s boundaries, and you’re very proud of what you create. At the third stage, you’ve got a little street cred, you call yourself a potter, you’re selling your pots, and now your mom is proud of you, too. You’re putting your own videos online and writing articles for magazines. You reach the point when you ask yourself, what’s next? What else is there to make? The answer? Forms with an über function, of course. These forms are the fantastical, over-the-top pieces that take your sharpened making and design skills and launch them into the stratosphere. These are the pieces you make to not so much impress people, but to make the long hours in the studio fun again. These pieces bring you back to the challenges of creating by trial and error, but make you smile with each iteration. These are the pieces that, when people talk about them, they put your name in front of the titles—they’re called über functional for a reason.
No matter what skill stage you’re in, this issue has something for you: from Marion Angelica’s handbuilt handles with flair to David Crane’s geometrically shaped and altered bowls, and from Debra Oliva’s stoppered bottles to Breena Buettner’s coiled and thrown oil ewer. If you want to up your functional game, try a version of Katie Bosley’s double-walled and carved cups or design your own food-specific trays.
With the holidays coming up, I’m reminded of a mantra my dad lives by: holiday gifts should be special things someone would never buy, or make, for themselves. So, in that tradition, maybe the gifts we make this year should be über functional forms, specific to a person’s favorite food or holiday meal—a great way to have fun both in the studio and at family gatherings.