Objects of Affection

EVERYTHING FEELS WELCOMING inside Kate Chertavian’s historical home on a tree-lined Cambridge street. Sparkly red shoes and lucky Chinese cat figurines sit prominently in the bookcase next to priceless works of art. Pencil sketches and family photos hang among pop art and turn-of-the-century oil portraits. “I like the idea of mundane objects,” Chertavian says. “I like humor; I like the ridiculous.”

An independent art dealer for hush-hush clients (including a famous rock star turned artist), Chertavian is known in New England art circles as a tireless giver. Her altruistic acts run the gamut from guest-auctioneering at charity functions to helping urban young adults achieve their professional and academic goals via her nonprofit, Year Up, which she cofounded with her husband 11 years ago. Before that, Chertavian worked in Christie’s Modern British Picture Department.

But in spite of her pedigree, Chertavian believes that art should be accessible to everyone. Her kids touch significant pieces every day, from the bread bin to the bowl she keeps their vitamins in. Even ceremonial tea sets are brought down from their display shelf in the family room to be handled on occasion. “Objects need to be touched to be understood,” she says. “I truly believe that you need to interact with things hands first.” That said, there are a few items she keeps out of reach. “I have a Shoji Hamada plate [on a high shelf] that is a stunner. I have to keep it up there because it will probably pay for college,” she says.

Chertavian’s latest passion is representing the work of master British potters, many of whom she discovered while scouting in southwest England for a client 18 years ago. Their rustic style is inspired by pottery first developed in the 1920s, when two potters, one British and one Japanese, met in Japan and subsequently opened a studio together in St. Ives. Uniting Eastern and Western ideas, Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada produced Asian silhouettes with European glazes, then finished them in traditional Japanese wood-fired kilns. Potters from across the globe clamored to study under these artists and their counterparts; today, however, apprenticeships are rare, and the number of master potters inspired by their work is dwindling.

To heighten their exposure in America, Chertavian recently commissioned 10 master British potters to create pieces that she could introduce to local museums and private collectors. “I love being connected to the earth, to your environment, in a tradition that is not paid well,” she says. “It’s not about money, it’s about domestic objects — objects that you can have in your home, that you can use every day, and that give pleasure.”

Photographs by Kent Dayton