by Elizabeth Winslow • Photography by Molly Winters
Keith Kreeger wants to get intimate. “How many pieces of art do you hold on a daily basis?” he asks on a recent visit to his pottery studio in East Austin. Whether we’ve stopped to consider it before or not, we do indeed get up-close-and-personal with the vessels we use for eating and drinking—we bring a cup to our lips, pass a platter from our hands to a friend’s, hold a bowl up to our nose and inhale deeply. A new generation of food lovers is stopping to consider not just what’s on their plate, but also what’s under their food. In an era when we carefully source ingredients, know our coffee roaster, our farmer and our cheesemaker, doesn’t it make sense to know who made our plates? “There’s a greater desire these days to understand where things come from and how they’re made,” Kreeger agrees. “I think this willingness to connect with what I’m making is deeply connected to the food movement. It’s just the next step for people who love food to care deeply about what it’s served in or on.”
In the design process, Kreeger begins with these tactile moments of intimacy—imagining how his pieces will be held and used and also what they will contain. “I make pottery because I think the objects we use on a daily basis are as important as what they hold. I start with a shape before I ever think about pattern or color. The most important thing to me is that the work is used,” he says, smiling.
In addition to his work being practical and pleasing to use, Kreeger strives, continuously, for beauty. He draws inspiration from seemingly random bits of loveliness in the world around him—the design of the “Copan” pieces in his spring 2014 collection found its genesis in a vase he stumbled upon while traveling in Central America, and his stripe-and-dot pattern was inspired by a glimpse of a pretty dress. His style walks a line between traditional, hand-built ceramics and contemporary design, with a clean minimalist aesthetic that still shows the hand that shaped it. “There are a lot of steps that people don’t see in creating these pieces—like the way we shape tumblers and bowls that look like they wobble but don’t. I love to incorporate the idea of movement in my pieces, but that’s not something that is obvious at first glance.”
A native of upstate New York, Kreeger spent 12 years running a contemporary craft gallery on Cape Cod where he sold his own work and that of other artists. He met and married Evangelina, a native Texan, and in 2009, the couple decided to move to Austin to be closer to his wife’s family in Houston. “We moved here right when the local food and restaurant scene was exploding. I was really lucky to connect to several chefs who are now expanding their reach and doing really exciting things.”
When Top Chef champion and James-Beard-Award-winning chef Paul Qui was building his namesake restaurant, he wanted to create a holistic culinary design experience for diners and reached out to Kreeger to craft plateware that would frame the food he was creating. Other chefs and designers took notice and collaborations developed with Shawn Cirkiel for his newest venture Chavez, and with Foreign & Domestic’s Indie Chefs Week.
Kreeger works closely with the chefs for these projects—thinking deeply about the menu, the chef’s style, the way the food looks on the plate and the restaurant space. For example, since Qui favors an off-center plating, designs for the restaurant’s plateware take this into account with off-center, minimalistic intersecting lines that set the food with a subtle drama. Kreeger and Qui communicate regularly—sending iPhone photos back and forth—and Kreeger is talking about a stage at Qui to get to know the food on an even more intimate level.
Home cooks can buy Kreeger’s pieces directly from the studio or from various retailers, but whether you’re eating off his plates in a restaurant or at home, he wants you to know that objects matter. “I think that a meal with friends that you’ve spent hours preparing calls for dinnerware made with the same care. I think flowers you’ve picked from your garden look better in a vase you’ve picked, as well. I think you deserve to know the maker of the objects you use every day.”
For more information on where to find Keith Kreeger’s pottery, visit keithkreeger.com