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Black Mountain Ceramics: Where Vintage California Meets Modern Functionality

This past spring, Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebrated the work of esteemed post-war, Southern Californian artist John McLaughlin. His work is bold, abstract, geometric, funky, and cool. When you view it, you’re immediately connected to the energy of Southern California — most notably, Los Angeles and the current contemporary throwback moment that is feverishly trending in Northeast Los Angeles (NELA).

A rising fixture in this movement is ceramicist Jennifer Foster, the artist behind Black Mountain Ceramics. Foster’s work is definitive of this moment. It strikes a balance between vintage Californian aesthetic and modern functionality. Her pottery and designs embrace characteristics evocative of McLaughlin and Ed Ruscha; but are distinctly original contemplations on color, geometry, and organic movement. We spent an afternoon with Jennifer at her Eagle Rock home to discuss the origins of Black Mountain Ceramics and how a simple accident paved the way for artistic inspiration.

 

Jennifer's hands as she works a piece on the wheel.
One of Jennifer's pieces with the BMC stamp.
One of Jennifer's pieces with the BMC stamp.

What inspired Black Mountain Ceramics and where does the name Black Mountain come from?

I named my ceramics company Black Mountain because I was really into a dark clay at the time…..called Black Mountain. It is a rich stoneware body that fires chocolate brown in color. It’s funny because I haven’t used that clay for several years now, but the name stuck I guess.

How did you discovery pottery and the art of throwing?

I had always wanted to try ceramics, since high school. It was always in the back of my mind something I wanted to do in a vague way. Four years ago, a friend kept asking me to take different classes with her. [And] one day she asked me if I wanted to take a ceramics class with her. I was like, “YES!” — I have been completely obsessed ever since.

I love combining bold graphics with raw ceramic texture; I love the juxtaposition.

Did you ever imagine that you would be doing this as a profession?

I transitioned very easily into selling my work. I started by having an Etsy account, then doing small shows, and now my ceramics are in many stores. It’s pretty exciting! Though ceramics is one of my “professions”, I still have a full-time job. I work as a speech-language pathologist for LAUSD. I am hoping to transition over to being a full-time ceramicist over the next several years. Fingers crossed!!

How would you describe your work?

Small batch. Original and one-of-a-kind. I love combining bold graphics with raw ceramic texture…I love the juxtaposition. Every piece I make is hand thrown and hand painted by me. So, although I do duplicate designs and pieces within collections, no two pieces are exactly the alike. Most of my work is bright and vibrant. I sometimes joke that I am brightening the world one pot at a time.

Two of Jennifer's pieces being used to hold cacti.
Jennifer hand throwing a piece in her backyard.

What is it that you love about hand-thrown pots and the process?

Most of my work is hand thrown on a potter’s wheel. My husband bought me my wheel a couple years ago for my birthday. I set it up on our back porch and it becomes my sanctuary. I realized recently that throwing [pots] on my wheel is my mediation. I always feel so centered (pun intended) and in-the-moment. My thoughts do not typically wander away from the pot at hand.

 

 

What part of Los Angeles do you live and work?  How has this community influenced BMC?

I live in Eagle Rock with my husband and my 11-year-old daughter Harlow. I work out of our house and yard as I’m not yet in the position to rent a studio space. Our neighborhood is pretty laid back and the street we live on is very residential. We found our house right before we got married. My husband was living in Silverlake and I was in South Pasadena. When we looked at our house we were just “researching”, we weren’t even ready to move at the time. But, we walked in there was light flooding in from the skylight in the living room basking a beautiful desert mural on the wall. We had to have it! And, I still think at least once a day how much I love our home.

I am not sure how exactly the community has influenced my art. But, I did start ceramics right after we moved to Eagle Rock. I took my first ceramics classes at Toros Pottery here, so maybe my neighborhood has absolutely everything to do with my ceramics.

A close-up of Jennifer holding one of her colorful ceramic pieces.
Jennifer sitting at a wooden table painting a ceramic plate.

Can you describe the color palette that you use in your pottery and the design of your pots? Some pieces tend to have more symmetry to their design and glazing - others are more abstract. What story - if any - are you communicating through your design?

My graphic planters are what Black Mountain is most known for. I love combining the bold and bright graphic designs with raw ceramic texture. These pieces are usually very symmetrical in nature and I feel like I have control over them when I am creating. I want the lines to be perfectly straight and even and the glazes to be applied flawlessly.

In contrast, I now have the Melange Collection which has quickly become my favorite. This line happened a bit by “accident”. I was about to haul a bunch of pieces to be glaze fired in Pasadena. I saw this vase I had been meaning to paint for some time but wasn’t really sure how [it should be glazed]. I grabbed it and just started putting brushstrokes of color on it. It was haphazard and not calculated – the opposite of my normal style. When I was done, I thought it looked pretty cute. Then I fired it and fell in love. It’s whimsical and free... and maybe if you look close you can see my heart beat in the strokes. The Melange Collection is forcing me to relax a bit and to see the perfection in “imperfection.  Or am I embracing it…I’m not sure?

Do you work with your daughter on some of your creations? What has it been to share your work and process with your daughter?

Harlow does enjoy working with clay at times. Once we were up at our cabin and she asked to paint some pieces. I was reluctant, to be honest, as I was trying to fill an order. She painted a piece with a triangle in the middle and stripes around the piece. I loved the way it came out. So, I painted a piece using her design and fell in love. I asked her if it was okay for me to use the design and call it the “Harlow Collection”. I told her I could either pay her a flat rate ($50) for her design or she could get a $2 commission on each piece I sold. She thought it over and asked me, “How many pieces do you think will sell?” Hahaha…so she gets a $2.50 cut off each Harlow piece that is sold. It is still one of my favorite styles.

Who/What are some of your influences?

A lot of my work is influenced by textile design and vintage California style. I find inspiration everywhere but it does usually come from fabric and textile designs. For example, I had a “Fargo” collection briefly last year inspired by a vintage sweater one of the characters was wearing in an episode.

 

Jennifer's daughter, Harlow, poses with one of her own ceramic pieces.
Jennifer poses with one of her black ceramic pieces.

What are the pieces you are creating for AOS? How is this piece reflective of BMC?

I am creating several pieces for AOS. They are all from the new “Melange” Collection inspired by Japanese Ink wash paintings. I recently tried a black clay that fires true black and matte… I have been playing around with styles and glazes that compliment the clay body. I will be launching the Black Melange collection featuring a planter and catchall with AOS.

What’s next for BMC?

I hope to continue in the direction I am heading at an organic pace. I would like to do some of the bigger craft fairs in the next year. I also have several exciting collaborations in the works. It’s too early to discuss, but let’s just say that it will be worth the wait!

 

Black melange pieces by BMC.

The last trip I took was to:

Our cabin in Green Valley Lake.

I’m currently listening to:

"The Proposition" soundtrack and Lots of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

My favorite meal is:

STEAK!!

When I travel I love to visit:

Love the beach, pool, lake. Any body of water really where I can sip on a cocktail, read a book, and let the world slip away.

 

Jennifer at work painting her ceramic pieces.
Jennifer raising her hands up in the air with excitement.

I’m happiest when:

I’m on our rowboat.

My favorite item to take when I travel somewhere is:

My extremely worn gray sweatshirt.

I search for inspiration:

In everything.