Chances are, if you’ve dined at Austin hotspots Qui, Uchi, or Emmer & Rye, you’ve already met Keith Kreeger. As a firm believer that thoughtfully made objects and delicious food go hand in hand, Keith is the ceramicist behind the handmade dishware and serving pieces in over two dozen restaurants across the country. His minimalist style and work with soft matte glazes continues to catch the eyes of restauranteurs in this foodie town and beyond.
We caught up with Keith at his ceramics studio in East Austin for a tour of his space and a lesson in how to use a pottery wheel. Keith effortlessly demo’ed the art, then we each took a stab at throwing our own bowls. Not surprisingly, we all need a lot more practice, but our beginner status didn’t keep us from having an absolute blast! Click through for scenes from our field trip, as well as some tips and tricks from Keith himself…
*photography by Buff Strickland
Team CS: How did you get your start in ceramics?
Keith: I had dabbled with ceramics in high school, but I truly began working with clay while I was in college. I took a summer course in ceramics at Skidmore College and just fell in love with the material, the process, and the results. That summer, I spent about 10 to 12 hours a day in the ceramics studio and I’ve never looked back.
Did you have an influential mentor along the way?
I’ve had many mentors along the way, and I still do. I don’t think you can ever stop learning from those ahead of you. That said, my first true mentor was Toshiko Takaezu. She was an amazing artist and I was lucky to meet her very soon after I began taking classes in the studio at Skidmore. She made many of her large forms in the studio and it was an honor to help make some of them.
We see your dishware in several of our favorite restaurants around Austin. How did you get your foot in the door of the hospitality scene?
I noticed that all of my customers who cared about the importance of a handmade object also cared about the details of the food system. I was really trying to market towards restaurants so their customers would become interested in my work. Somehow, as I was doing more food-based events, the restaurants started calling. I thought that making plates would be a nice extra part of my studio practice. It’s now become the main part of what we do. We’re currently making work for well over two dozen restaurants around the country.
Critical to throwing a successful ceramic is loosely keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, and always keeping your hands touching. Sounds easy enough, but remembering all these instructions definitely took a lot of focus at first!
Let’s face it. We all had a little trouble centering our clay on the wheel at first. Any tips for other beginner ceramicists facing this issue?
You have to use your entire body. It’s physics, not brute strength. If your hands aren’t connected and your arms aren’t connected to the rest of your body, the clay is going to push you around. It seems weird to say, but the clay wants to be on center. It’s our job to help it get there.
Most used tool in the studio:
Describe your aesthetic in five words or fewer.
Simple. Clean. Contemporary. Functional.
The perfect studio playlist includes:
Right now, Leon Bridges.
Where do you find inspiration for new pieces or collections?
I’m inspired by forms, fashion, food, people, and just about anything else I come across. I never know when it’s going to directly influence my work. My eyes are always open for patterns to include on my wares.
pictured: Chanel and Landrie get carried away arranging flowers in some Keith Kreeger vases.
Do you find yourself sticking to a certain color palette?
Right now I’m trying to add color. I’ve been working with white porcelain for so long and I’m excited about adding some blues and also some gold right now. Gold has been super-fun recently.
What is the most important thing we should remember when we practice throwing pots on our own?
Pay attention to the clay. It’s telling you what is possible at each moment. It will tell you when you can push it further or when you have to hold back and accept that piece for what it is. This sounds super new-agey, but it’s not and I’m not. You have to react to what’s going on in front of you.
What can we expect next from Keith Kreeger? A new collection? A ceramics workshop?
We’re always working on a new collection and right now we’re focused on some new ideas for holiday gifts. We’re currently working on a huge order for a restaurant in NYC. It’s over 3600 pieces and is dominating our studio production at the moment. When we finish that, I think we’ll make some more plates! And…as for a workshop, I teach from time to time and will definitely let you all know when my next workshop gets scheduled!