By Meghan Urback.
The porcelain bowls and cups created by Mark Warren and Chris Pence for their label Haand are delightfully simple and sleek. Efficiently slip-cast and made to nestle in the palm of a hand, these clay wares exemplify a mission to create “minimal, comfortable, elegant objects for everyday use.”
Haand is based in rural North Carolina. Production facilities are located in a farmhouse dating to the late 1880s. The residence, which was once a cabin for freed slaves and, later, a pig farm, now houses a dry materials storage area and a casting room. Rainwater, propane, and solar energy are used in the making of Haand homewares. Most minerals used in their porcelain are sourced from the southeastern United States.
Intrigued by the poetic descriptions of their production methods and aesthetic choices in their online biography, I wrote to Warren and Pence with a few questions. Mark Warren kindly responded.
You list several distinct inspirations for your work: objects in science fiction movies, Wedgwood china, and small hunting cats! Perhaps you could draw some connections between those items? This is a tricky question. The only real connection is that all three of these focuses (some would say obsessions) exist simultaneously and harmoniously in my brain. I have been a huge fan of sci-fi my whole life, I distinctly remember wanting to drink out of the cup and pitchers used by Luke Skywalker and his aunt and uncle used in A New Hope the first time I saw it.
Josiah Wedgwood’s story and contributions to modernizing the ceramic industry are huge inspirations to me personally, and I really love the fact that when you see “Wedgwood Blue” it immediately brings up a range of thoughts and feelings — it’s different for everyone, it could [feel] stuffy for some, or classy for others, but regardless, that simple color makes you think and feel abstractions well beyond just about any other color.
The small hunting cats…I have always loved accumulating information about the lesser known inhabitants of this planet, and I find the small hunting mammals fascinating. They are all just about the right size to be pets, but dangerous enough for me to not pursue trying to obtain one.
You mention that you live off the grid in an old farmhouse in North Carolina. What instigated this lifestyle and business decision? Could you describe your local community? Like so many things in life, it just sort of happened. A friend invited me to live at the house, and since the rent was $60 a person, it was hard to pass up the opportunity. The house is an old farm, so there are sheds and old buildings that we use to store and produce the pieces in, and there is lots of land to walk around on. With the overhead being so low, we have a lot of leeway and not having a lease looming over us has been great. There are definitely shortcomings in using the house as a production studio — no running water (we use rainwater) and VERY dicey electricity.
Starting a business under these conditions has been great, we do a lot with very little. Sadly, we have already outgrown the amount of production we can do out of the house. We are looking for bigger production spaces in Durham, we plan on using the lean production style we have learned and applying that to our new space and the future Haand factory. Our house is down in a small valley — one of our neighbors is a woodworker and the other trains horses. Everybody sort of does their own thing, but it’s really nice to live in such a beautiful place and have friendly neighbors.
I’m thrilled to read that one of you studied at Penland School of Crafts (a renowned center for craft education in North Carolina). Could you talk about your experience there and how it lead to Haand? I was fortunate to be a two year Core Fellowship student at Penland, and Chris took a 2 month concentration there as well. I came to Penland wanting to understand how EVERYTHING was made. I was tired of looking at something in a gallery or store and wondering exactly how it was made and put together. As a Core Fellow I could take any class I wanted, and I first gravitated towards woodworking and blacksmithing, but in the Spring of 2010 I took a slip casting and mold making class with Tom Spleth. I had always been hesitant to delve into clay, but I knew Tom and his work, and knew I would enjoy mold making. For whatever reason, it clicked.
I think, partially, Haand was born from the realization that many people make beautiful work — the hard part of the craft industry is not making beautiful objects, instead it is making those beautiful objects efficiently and marketing them effectively.
I’m interested by your description of a streamlined ceramics process, and am curious what sorts of steps you’ve taken to decrease waste and optimize production. This was an important focus of ours from the beginning. Slip casting, when done right, is an almost lossless process — unfired pieces can be reconstituted, scrap can be rehydrated, etc. We want to push efficiency to it’s furthest possible extreme — this is a factor in design, prototyping and production. Efficiency is also less wasteful of resources, which, combined with our use of minimal electricity and rainwater, has made environmental responsibility an integral part of our thinking and making.
We also streamline our process to make sure that (almost) every piece that makes it into our kilns has already been sold — this way we are not needlessly making objects that nobody wants.
There is such an elegant, simple style to the Haand collection. Do you both share this minimalist aesthetic? It’s really hard to say where the minimalist impulse comes from. I have always loved work that says exactly what it means and doesn’t waste the viewers time with extraneous information…I think what I have carried over most from my youth is a love of the lazy sort of unpretentious elegance that you can only find in the beach culture of North Florida.
Explore more of the Haand collection at www.haand.us