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Meet the Creative Soul Behind Mt. Washington Pottery

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Ceramicist Beth Katz holding one of her beautiful pieces.

Ceramicist Beth Katz holding one of her beautiful pieces.

There’s nothing more inspiring than people who reinvent themselves, so when we heard about Beth Katz we knew we had to meet her. This creative soul, who was also a celeb make-up artist and magazine creative director in a past life, has been making beautiful ceramic pieces for years, only recently turning her hobby into a full-time endeavor through her brand Mt. Washington Pottery. “I love clay and am endlessly fascinated with its innate qualities of softness and strength,” she says. “When you open up the kiln after a firing, you’re always surprised. It’s like receiving a bunch of gifts!” We stopped by her studio in Los Angeles’s Frogtown neighborhood (more on its name later), to talk shop, see her in action, and drool over her latest collection.

Most intrigued by neutral colors, Beth tends to play up texture in her work, keeping her hues quietly subdued.

Most intrigued by neutral colors, Beth tends to play up texture in her work, keeping her hues quietly subdued.

What inspired you to start Mt. Washington?
“I’ve been a make-up artist for T.V. and movies, I’ve been the creative director at a magazine, and then I went back to grad school. Throughout it all, I’ve done pottery here and there. As a grad-school graduation present to myself, I decided I’d dedicate a month or two to pottery since I’ve always loved it, but never really gave it a chance. It ended up turning into a full-on thing and I got a real studio and ramped up.”

When juxtaposed, you can see the commonality between Beth’s pieces, but also how each vessel is one of a kind.

When juxtaposed, you can see the commonality between Beth’s pieces, but also how each vessel is one of a kind.

Where did the name Mt. Washington come from?
“I actually live in Mt. Washington. When I first started doing pottery, I called it that because I did it in my backyard, and it stuck.”

Speaking of names, your studio is in an L.A. neighborhood called Frogtown—any idea why it’s called that?
“It sits right on the L.A. River, which used to be really vibrant with lots of natural life, including tons of frogs, which is how it got the name. Recently there’s been a big push to revive the river and the frogs are coming back—you can hear them in the early mornings and evenings now.”

Beth plucks different sponges from this basket to smooth the edges of her pots as she’s throwing them.

Beth plucks different sponges from this basket to smooth the edges of her pots as she’s throwing them.

As a neighborhood, what’s Frogtown like?
“It’s a combo of light industry mixed with residential—really interesting. There are tons of artists and makers here: Modernica just moved into an old bakery, a coffee roaster just opened up, and there’s talk of a vegan restaurant. It’s definitely in the midst of a change.”

A wall full of wood shelving holds Beth’s completed pieces.

A wall full of wood shelving holds Beth’s completed pieces.

What does a typical day in your life look like?
“I go to the studio a minimum of five days a week. I’m an early-morning person, so I’m in the studio between 7 and 7:30. I love that time when it’s really quiet. That’s when I throw most of my pots. Then I’ll come home for lunch and to walk the dogs. I typically save the afternoons for less-creative work like paperwork and answering emails.”

At the wheel, Beth stays utterly focused on her task at hand.

At the wheel, Beth stays utterly focused on her task at hand.

What are your favorite materials to work with?
“Porcelain and stoneware. I work with a particular kind that’s a high-fire cone 10. And I use a gas kiln.”

A trio of pots, ready for their first firing.

A trio of pots, ready for their first firing.

When you fire a piece, how hot does the kiln get?
“Each piece gets fired twice. First a bisque firing that’s low and slow and the kiln gets up to about 1800. Then there’s a second firing where I’ll turn the heat up to 2300-2400 degrees.”

Bell clappers, decorative accents, and clay scraps all live neatly in big buckets.

Bell clappers, decorative accents, and clay scraps all live neatly in big buckets.

Why do you love working with your hands?
“I was born that way! There’s really no question of me not doing it—I don’t feel like me when I don’t.”

Beth carves a decorative pattern by hand.

Beth carves a decorative pattern by hand.

Why do you love ceramics specifically?
“I love clay and am endlessly fascinated with its innate qualities of softness and strength. I strive to allow the nature of the clay to be visible in my work so that people may experience the same delight that I find in the material.”

An up-close look at the action.

An up-close look at the action.

Do you find working with clay meditative?
“Absolutely. The first thing you do when you’re at the wheel and about to throw is center your clay. If your mind is somewhere else, it’s not the easiest thing. You have to center your clay, and center yourself.”

Beth’s pieces are first fired in her electric kiln (shown here) before being fired a second time in her gas kiln.

Beth’s pieces are first fired in her electric kiln (shown here) before being fired a second time in her gas kiln.

What goes through your mind when you step back and look at a completed piece?
“What am I going to do next time? My first critique is always a technical critique: ‘How do I make this corner hotter?’ But then I’m able to step back and start thinking more emotionally: ‘Look at all these gifts!’”

Unloading her gas kiln, filled with stacked shelves of pots, is almost like playing a game of Jenga.

Unloading her gas kiln, filled with stacked shelves of pots, is almost like playing a game of Jenga.

Your space is so neat—is it always like this?
“I clean up every night before I leave. It’s almost ritualistic to me. I’ve been to Japan several times, have friend who’s a master potter there. There it’s all about respecting your space—cleaning up is about respect.”

Beth’s bells, a piece she’s most known for, actually started as a project she began, then forgot, then found rolling around the trunk of her car, then retooled to make them what they are today.

Beth’s bells, a piece she’s most known for, actually started as a project she began, then forgot, then found rolling around the trunk of her car, then retooled to make them what they are today.

What inspires you?
“The natural beauty of the southern California landscape, particularly the Topanga Canyon and Laurel Canyon neighborhoods where I spent my formative years, influence me, and my work. I’m also inspired by stillness and quiet, wind and sunlight, and the subtlety of a shadow. Stones, shells, hives, nests and tree bark are a few things that inform the beads and surface textures of my pieces.”

A whole lot of gorgeousness. Beth’s work can be used as mugs, planters, or vases.

A whole lot of gorgeousness. Beth’s work can be used as mugs, planters, or vases.

How do you use your pieces in your own home?
“Jars are covering my kitchen counter! I use them for all kinds of dry goods from salt to sugar to dry beans.”

Related: Inside the Studio of Inspiring Bag Designer Clare Vivier >

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