Alexis Courtney is a ceramicist and photographer originally from Delaware. She spent stints in California and New York before settling in Richmond, VA and opening up her very own pottery studio, Hand / Thrown. Alongside her business partner Emily Wicks, Alexis runs workshops and classes for folks of all skills levels while also providing a place for resident artists to work. Alexis Courtney has been a long-time friend of Handyma'am Goods (you can peep her photography work on our product pages!) and we loved learning more about her pottery practice.
Where are you from, where are you now, and how did you end up there?
I grew up in Delaware and left at 18 to go to college then spent a bunch of time in NYC and California. I’m currently in Richmond, VA and absolutely love it. My partner and I wanted to head back east to be closer to family after living on the west coast. We picked Richmond because we found it to be a really creative, affordable, and accessible city with plenty of nature while still offering the many comforts of city life. Walking to get a coffee was high on our demands list, though we’ve since traded our city hats in for country life out in Varina where the only place we walk to is the woods.
How did you get started in ceramics?
I took my first class in college back in 2005 and immediately fell in love. Once I moved to NYC I took classes whenever I could at Choplet, a truly lovely studio in Brooklyn. Throughout the years I kept coming back to pottery as a hobby and once we moved to Richmond it really seemed to stick. You can only hold on to so many pots before another outlet is needed — that’s where East Clay was born and is still evolving.
I feel pretty strongly that pots should be used until their demise; they should never sit in a cabinet collecting dust.
How would you describe your style; who or what has influenced it?
I’d say my style is minimal with a touch of modern. I like to make simple forms in solid colors like bright cobalt blue or a deep, hazy black with a lot of texture in the glaze. The work I’m most drawn to tends to be more traditional pottery: organic shapes that really show the maker's hand glazed in deep earth tones with tons of texture. I always love the pieces I find at roadside antique stores or while I’m out thrifting.
I think I’m most influenced by mid-century artists who really pushed the boundaries of what pottery could be, pushing it past craft and into the art sphere. I recently discovered Luce Rie and have been obsessed with looking at her work — she’s nicknamed the “Godmother of Modern Ceramics.” I don’t have a formal education in pottery so discovering these pioneers of modernist ceramics is really exciting to me. I also really admire John Ward’s work — such beautiful shapes, textures and surface decoration.
You are also a photographer, how do the two practices play off of each other?
Ahh yes, the marrying of the two has been a fun project. The two practices together allow me a lot of creative freedom. Photography, for me, tends to be far more structured and has a much quicker turnaround due to the digital nature of the work. Pottery is far more humbling than that and I really love that aspect of the work. Clay is constantly reminding me who’s boss, and it’s definitely not me. There’s a tenderness that clay demands, always reminding me to slow down and take care every step of the way. In turn, I try to take those same principles and apply them to my photography work. I’ve been able to take lessons learned from both practices and apply them to the other, hopefully creating better outcomes for not only myself but my clients as well.
Clay is constantly reminding me who’s boss, and it’s definitely not me.
Tell us about your ceramics studio Hand / Thrown and how it adds to Brookland Park Blvd.
I co-own Hand / Thrown Studio with Emily Wicks, who I met taking classes at the Visual Arts Center in 2018. We found the space we’re currently in while looking for a much smaller solution to our studio needs and fell in love with the potential. We saw a space that could offer memberships, classes, host community events, and act as the in-between to artists who were looking to grow their studio practice but might not be ready for a home studio. Our goal was to provide access, space, and creative freedom to anyone who wanted to explore clay.
Being a part of the Brookland Park Community has been a real joy. The BP corridor is full of business owners who pour their hearts into the community and we strive to do just that. Clay isn’t the most inclusive craft, so we’ve made it our goal to change that and provide access to clay in our direct neighborhood and Richmond city as a whole. We hope that Hand / Thrown provides a creative outlet for everyone that comes to see us and acts as a place to find community in clay, whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned pro.
What is your dream project?
Ohh good question! I’m really into throwing large amounts of clay but it often results in a vessel that doesn’t have much purpose other than looking good. I’d love to make more of these large forms for anyone who’s interested. I also really adore making functional work that becomes a part of someone's daily routine. Plates, bowls, cups — the whole gamut. To make someone's full kitchen set would be a dream. But I’d require proof of use to make sure they’re getting the love they deserve! I feel pretty strongly that pots should be used until their demise; they should never sit in a cabinet collecting dust. I’d rather they collect dings and scratches while being used for breakfast every day than sit lonesome behind doors.