Preserving Precious Heirlooms with Porcelain Elegance
By Natasha Kubis
People arrive in Asheville looking to reinvent themselves and experience the inspiration that is built into the bedrock of the Blue Ridge mountains. It’s no wonder an abundant and flourishing art scene exists here and why Michael Hofman, a ceramics artist, has called Asheville home for the last 20 years.
Michael’s ceramic treasures are unique and feature antique lace or other three-dimensional textiles such as embroidery, tattering, wedding dresses, christening gowns, or other heirloom pieces delicately pressed into clay.
“I combine lace, a fragile memory of days gone by, with the stone-like strength of porcelain to create objects that will be cherished for generations. Porcelain is the finest and strongest of all clays, which allows me to create dinnerware that is deceptively fragile in appearance but is oven, dishwasher, and microwave safe. Whether used as your everyday dishes or for the most festive occasions, my work will make your table a work of art," Michael says.
His gallery, located in Wedge Studios in the River Arts District, is full of works for you to choose from, created using lace drawn from his vast library of hand-selected textiles. Clients often commission him to create pieces that embody the family’s history using their sentimental heirloom laces, tatterings, or embroidery.
His fine-tuned and delicate process does not hurt the textile, and it’s returned in the condition it was given. One exciting project of Michaels involved making multiple pieces for a family reunion with the imprint of a christening gown worn by every family member for more than 100 years.
The process starts by rolling out the clay as though it’s a pie crust, and then when the appropriate thickness is achieved, the lace is gently pressed into it. The lace is removed immediately, as clean as when he started. The clay is then formed into the desired shape using various techniques.
Once the piece is created, it must be dried very slowly. This allows the clay to dry evenly and not warp or crack. There are then seven more steps that each piece must go through, including two firings. So, it takes about a month to go from his worktable to the display table in the gallery.
If unique is what you desire, then you need look no further. Each piece is one of a kind. Michael’s work is influenced by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, a concept applied to life and the art world. It’s the act of embracing the transient nature of earthly things and finding gratitude in impermanence.
His work embodies this philosophy by preserving the essence of sentimental and delicate heirlooms, subjected to the wear and tear of time, into strong and long-lasting porcelain to give it new life and breath.
Wabi-Sabi philosophy also embraces the flaws and imperfections in life (and art) and redefines beauty. Michaels’s hand-built pieces are one of a kind and not mass-produced in a machine assembly line, and the imperfections of the human touch make each piece uniquely beautiful.
People have been using objects to create patterns in clay for centuries, and in addition to the use of textiles, Michael’s choice of clay adds a dimension of uniqueness. Using quality porcelain clay, he crafts pieces with a defined elegance and lightness but still has profound structural integrity.
Porcelain clay, invented by the Chinese thousands of years ago and reinvented by the English and Germans 100 years ago into bone ash porcelain, is the marriage of clay and glass, which has a crystalline structure and bonds everything together strongly. Hence, pieces are functional and usable despite their delicate and intricate appearance.
Another unique aspect of his work is his homemade colors and glazes. He applies a double layer of glaze onto the white porcelain, and the piece is fired in the kiln at 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. The glaze becomes molten, and the minerals move around into the crooks and valleys where the lace was pressed, which creates a buildup of color with richer variations in those areas.
The glaze is applied thinly so light can reflect off the underlying white porcelain, making luminous radiance in the piece and a cornucopia of colors that dazzle the eye.
“Culling the earth’s vast deposits of minerals, I blend glazes to dazzle the eyes, blanketing a single piece in a spectrum of colors. Whether your tastes run to the creamy whites, rich honey tones, and light blues that remind you of a gentle walk along the seashore or the rich jewel tones that would befit a great mead hall, you will enjoy building your set piece by piece to make it uniquely yours,” Michael says.
People who move to Asheville often want to embrace the local art culture rooted in folk art and Appalachian heritage. Michael’s studio offers unique hand built porcelain, and his customized and commissioned pieces, big and small, encapsulate the history of sentimental heirloom textiles.
His incredible craftsmanship accentuates any home and brings the ceramic medium to a new level of authenticity. His work also serves as thoughtful, one-of-a-kind, and sentimental gifts for people.
Micheal Hofman’s studio in The River Arts District will be going through an evolution this fall as he moves his workspace to his home studio and expands the Wedge location into a more extensive retail offering where he will carry a wide range of beautiful, unique home goods, glassware, and linens that align with his vision.
His studio offers some of the most remarkable finds in Asheville when it comes to home décor, usable yet artistic dishware, and sentimental wedding and bridesmaid gifts, for example, pieces made from pressing the bride’s wedding lace into clay pieces for the wedding party.
You can follow him on Instagram @hofman_studios or visit his website at www.livelifeartfully.com.
111 Roberts St., Asheville, NC 28801
Tuesday – Saturday, 10-4, or by appointment