As a kid Louisa Henry Had ideal neighbors. They lived right around the corner, and invited her with open arms into their world of art and making. Those neighbors were her grandparents. “On Wednesdays in the summer I would go with them to the senior-citizen center,” Louisa recalls, “My grandfather made the forms from molds and ran the ceramics kiln while the ladies flirted with him.” She got to choose the forms she would paint—“raw bisque-fired angels or cartoon characters that I would later gift to my mom.” Those early family memories stuck to Louisa, and so did the transformative nature of clay. Today, Louisa is the hands and heart behind Biglou Pottery, creating elegant, free-form ceramic pieces.
Clay is ubiquitous throughout history. In fact, historians believe that pottery was likely discovered independently and often accidentally in many different locations. Religious texts and folklore are rife with stories and metaphors about clay—in the Bible and the Qur’an, man is created from clay; in Greek myth, Prometheus molds men out of water and earth; Norse legend tells of humans being formed of sand from tree trunks. To put it simply, clay is a powerful player in human history. “In any culture,” Louisa says, “you can see the evidence of clay being used for function and beauty together. Sometimes the function itself is the beauty, but oftentimes both are seen working to give a snapshot of a culture that was once fully alive.” Louisa’s devotion to the material is rooted in its humanity, through her own history and the history of humankind. “It’s a beautiful reminder of the commonality we have with [all] humans.”
The pieces that Louisa makes in her studio blur the lines of utility and beauty. Her platters and vessels combine different techniques and materials, adding depth and texture to what might be a straightforward piece of serveware. A large platter could just as easily hang artfully on the wall as it could hold crudités for guests. Each Biglou piece begins with a white-bodied clay that fires to a cream color. “It’s a great standard clay that is strong yet refined,” Louisa says. For her signature scalloped dishes, she adds a speckled brownstone clay. Louisa loves “the magic” of firing the speckled clay, seeing “little dots appear that make freckles.” Like countless ancient cultures before her, Louisa marvels over what makes clay come alive.
From the humble senior-center origin of Louisa’s clay habit came a life-giving practice. Her grandparents’ generosity of spirit opened her eyes and her hands to the magic of making, the beauty inherent in utility. For validation in her practice, Louisa references the ancient Roman phrase “we eat first with our eyes.” “It sums up the human heart’s desire for beauty in the world around us. You see the beauty, and it draws you even deeper into appreciation of the function.” Biglou’s plates and platters marry beauty and utility, just as they marry smooth white clay with speckled brownstone. Louisa knows that after her hands form the pieces, they don’t need much to make them shine. “I prefer the simple ornamentation of a white glaze,” she says, emphasizing the importance of allowing the clay to emit its own warmth and character. “[It] feels like magic to me.”
Find Louisa Henry’s pottery online at bigloupottery.com. Photography by Will Crooks & Paul Mehaffey.