Tuesday, 06 September 2022 09:15

Artist Feature: Jeff Ham

Written by  Josh Veal
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Jeff Ham Ceramics. Jeff Ham Ceramics. Courtesy Photos

Jeff Ham didn’t grow up with pottery, but it’s been his professional life for the last five years.

He did grow up on a century old family produce farm just outside of Grand Rapids, learning to love and work with things from the earth. Now he carries that tradition on with pottery, which started with a class at Grand Rapids Community College, leading to a studio space at The Grand Rapids Pottery, not to mention a job working and learning under the owner. Then, in 2017, he started going to bigger art fairs and pottery became a full-time gig.

Ham’s ceramics have garnered many fans for the bold colors, thick textures and striking imagery, but he also does quite a bit of wholesale work for clients like Stoffer Home and Archival Brewing — especially since the pandemic put a pause on art shows. Want your own? Keep an eye out on Ham’s Facebook and website for updates on the next retail drop this fall.

We talked with Ham about his art while he painted his new home with partner and fellow GR artist Jeffrey Augustine Songco. 

You’re working on both direct-sale and wholesale art — do those feel different to you?

It’s sort of this inverse relationship between stability and creativity. A lot of the wholesale work is consistent and provides stability, but there’s not a ton of creativity that goes into it, because you’re kind of in a production mode at that point. Whereas the more one-off work I do, I’m taking a bigger risk because it’s not a proven product, but it’s also a lot more creatively fulfilling. 

What do you love about pottery?

I’ve always liked making things and problem-solving creatively, and I like that clay has an earthiness and a sensuality to it. I mean, I grew up on a functioning small-scale farm, so I always think about the values my dad had, having a relationship with the land. It feels like an extension of that, in that I’m making something out of nothing.

Your work lately features striking imagery - can you tell us a bit more about your style?

My work pre-pandemic was very nature inspired, and then post-pandemic, I started to get more into pattern and layering. Specifically, I was looking at a lot of textile resources, different textile patterns. And with my direct-sale work right now, I primarily work with stencils, so I have a vinyl plotter and I make patterns with that software and cut stencils. It’s not a true trompe-l’oeil, like, I’m not trying to make my ceramics look like fabric. But I am inspired by textile design right now. 

Since I am doing so much wholesale right now, I don’t really need to have a distinct direct-sales line like I used to. It does give me freedom to try a bunch of different ideas and only actually do like three of them; because at the end of the day, if they don’t sell, it’s not really a big deal. While I’m not doing as much creatively right now as I would like, I have a little bit more creative freedom at the same time. We’re all still trying to figure out how to be in a post-pandemic world, and my pottery hasn’t figured out what it wants to be yet.

How does it feel to be a part of the Grand Rapids art scene?

I should probably mention, I also am a co-owner of The Grand Rapids Pottery right now. Me and two other members bought that from the founder three years ago, so I also run that studio. In that way, I’m very much involved in the community and actively fostering it with Grand Rapids pottery. That’s been super rewarding. And like any self-proclaimed artist, I have a network and an affinity towards other people who make art. And I do think Grand Rapids is a small enough community that it’s easy to know a lot of people who can help you or want to generate new ideas with you.

Any hopes for the future?

I’ve been a part of a few group exhibitions around pottery, and always in the back of my head, I’d love to continue to develop that. I’m hoping to build like a wood kiln out here in Allendale and I want to have community firings for that. So that’s kind of a short-term goal right now. And then, I don’t know, continue to survive? 

Find more of Jeff Ham’s work at jeffhamceramics.com or @jeffhamceramics on Instagram.

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