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All Fired Up: Carey Lowell on Ceramics

Mon, 12/20/2021 - 15:36
Carey Lowell, who has just bought a house in Sag Harbor, currently works at a studio upstate.
Jenny Gorman Photos

The Western tropes about women and aging are not great. But in Chinese culture, women of a certain age are believed to enter what's known as their "second spring" -- a period of great wisdom, freedom, and creativity. A time when there's much flowering of feminine potential and when creative ambitions blossom.

It seems Carey Lowell, the former model, Bond girl, and "Law and Order" actor, has entered her second spring. Ms. Lowell, 60, has now added ceramicist to her résumé.

At a recent holiday art market featuring local artisans at The Church in Sag Harbor, Ms. Lowell stood behind a table of her homespun wares. Her range of functional and decorative ceramics includes vases, bowls, candle holders, and sculptural pieces, mostly in neutral hues and dashes of gold and some black. Every piece is irresistibly tactile, with holes and ridges, or a tiny, almost hidden, shiny heart.

There's clearly an appreciation of nature, too: Petals feature in distinctive, decorative bursts. It's all intrinsically womanly, but also strong. There's an earthiness to her work, offering a calming counterbalance not only to our digitally fatigued, technology-centered world, but to the more colorful ceramics that are in vogue these days. 

"I like things that are really serene and simple. So, I want it to be less loud. I like the quiet of it," she said.

Ms. Lowell first delved into ceramics in high school. A Long Island native -- born in Huntington -- she moved around the globe with her family until they settled in Colorado when she was 12.

"Pottery was part of my public high school art class," she said over Zoom recently. "We had all these wheels. It was just something I always loved to do." Her passion continued during the year she spent at the University of Colorado. "They even had wheels in the basement of my dorm at Boulder," she said. 

But it wasn't until she had moved to New York City, in the late 1980s, married the actor Griffin Dunne, and had a daughter, Hannah, that she was reintroduced to ceramics. 

"I was looking for something for Hannah to do -- she was about 2 at the time -- and I went to the Children's Aid Society on Sullivan Street, where they had a little class set up. And I would just take her there and pick her up, and would think, 'This is kind of cool.' " So she began taking adult classes there and later at Greenwich House, a Greenwich Village art school.

She famously married Richard Gere in 2002, after the birth of their son in 2000, by which point she was acting, mothering, and a hobbyist ceramicist. Although, in 2013, she did sell her collection in Barneys New York, the iconic luxury department store on Madison Avenue that shuttered in 2020.

When Ms. Lowell and Mr. Gere divorced in 2015, the couple sold their house on North Haven. Now, Ms. Lowell is moving back to the area, after buying a house in Sag Harbor that she hopes to move into by next summer.

"I just always loved the light out there and I love the water," she said from upstate, where she has lived for several years. "Once you live on the water, you're sort of seduced by it. So, I was really hoping to find something on the water and I did. I found a little tiny place that I'm excited about. It's not big but it's got a view."

More important, it has a basement, which she said will be turned into her ceramics studio. Working with clay seems to be her focus right now.

"I love the basic elements of it: water, fire, and earth. It seems so primitive in a way that you can take that and create whatever you feel compelled to create," she said of getting her hands grubby with clay. "I work mostly in porcelain just because I really like the color, the translucency, and the thinness. Although, I'm thinking that I'd like to do some sort of stoneware or earthenware because they're kind of groggier, sandier, and much more resilient. They're much less finicky, so you can get bigger in scale. There's just so much to learn, it's never-ending." 

Small-batch ceramics are suddenly the art accessory of the moment, tying into a widespread rejection of factory-produced sameness in dinnerware and vases and reflecting our desire to get back to something more elemental. The pandemic's enforced periods of lockdowns and social isolation over the last 18 months also caused a surge in crafting. Stuck at home without the diversions of travel, commuting, or dining out, Americans became D.I.Y.-crazed, turning home baking, knitting, ceramics, and other once-modest hobbies into a booming trade. 

According to financial reports released by Etsy, the e-commerce brand focused on handmade or vintage items, the company's revenues more than doubled to a record $1.7 billion in 2020. "Pottery is the new yoga," as Vogue magazine put it.

Ms. Lowell confirmed this by likening the process of throwing clay to "a creative energy that passes through you; when your creative juices are flowing, and you can really lose yourself."

She draws on organic forms for inspiration, she said, things that are naturally occurring in her surroundings. "I've made some casts of big squashes with really long necks. I love to play with different iterations of it. Sometimes I don't pour the mold the whole way up. I have just the little neck. Or sometimes I take it all the way to the top and then I carve it," she explained.

While she said she remains open to acting, she acknowledged that ageism among female actors is an age-old Hollywood problem. So, for now, she's content, she said, with taking malleable clay and forming it into functional and decorative objects with her own hands. 

"It's under my control. I get to decide what I'm going to do, when I'm going to do it, and how I'm going to do it," she said. "So, in that regard, I get to be autonomous. Whereas when I'm acting, I'm waiting for somebody to hire me, give me the lines to read, and then tell me how they want to shoot it. I have much more autonomy in ceramics, which I really appreciate."

Her work will be sold in Sag Harbor at the 1818 Collective, a Madison Street design shop that will open, rather fittingly, next spring.

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