An artist’s intricate illustrations bring life to the table.
Laura Zindel’s handmade homeware collections combine her gift for drawing with her mastery of ceramic technique. Songbirds, arachnids, root vegetables—if it’s found in nature, you’re likely to see it on one of the delicate tumblers, pitchers, and platters that she produces with her husband, Thorsten Lauterbach, in their Brattleboro, Vermont, studio.
Classically trained in ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design and UMass, Zindel launched her business in San Francisco back in 1997, and began peddling pieces at craft shows across the country. But when she and Lauterbach relocated to Vermont in 2004 to raise their family, they decided it was time to leave the traveling gig behind and instead turned to retailers who were interested in her designs. “As soon as we started wholesaling, it really took off,” she says.
To create her unique pieces, Zindel transfers her whimsical graphite drawings onto handmade dishware using a modernized version of the transferware technique, which was developed in 18th-century England for printing patterns on pottery with an engraved metal plate. “I still do things the old-fashioned way, and that’s really demonstrative in the work,” she says.
Once Zindel’s drawings are ready, they’re photographed digitally and converted into black-and-white silk-screens, then printed onto individual pieces and refired in the kiln. Hobbyists in the ’70s used pre-made decals in much the same way, she says, but now the process is becoming popular again with professional artisans.
Each collection explores a theme, from beetles and bees to botanicals. When choosing a subject, Zindel digs into books and photographs for inspiration, then spends three to four months sketching on paper to create the illustrations. “I do it in stages so that my attention can be as focused as possible,” she says. For her most recent collection, Zindel created a series of storybook-esque woodland creatures, including hares, owls, and squirrels. While most pieces have a black-and-white motif, often she’ll include a pop of color—a chocolate rim on a moth-accented bowl, for instance, or robin’s-egg blue on a chickadee platter.
Zindel was crafting all of her clay pieces by hand, but recently she enlisted the help of a New York factory to produce a line of dishwasher-safe dinnerware, which is decorated in her studio by a staff of three artisans. A handful of interns help with production, from fabricating clay pieces to glazing, firing, and decorating. “At this point, I’m just the designer,” Zindel says.
Zindel’s work ranges in price from $42 for a classic mug to $600 for a large pasta bowl, and can be purchased locally at Acquire, Fire Opal, and the Artful Hand, in Chatham. Customers are able to mix and match between the different collections, adding pieces as new ones become available to create their own unique table settings. “That’s kind of a goal for us,” Zindel says. “You get to make your own story for your table.”