For This Portland Artist, Clay Opened A New World Of Design Possibilities


Jenny Poston in studio with lighting collection on a table

Portland artist Jenny Poston’s work runs the gamut from small vessels to larger-scale pieces, including lighting.

What some see as a lump of clay, Portlander Jenny Poston regards as the jumping-off point to an infinite number of possibilities. In her hands, the humble material assumes a variety of iterations—from lighting to furniture to purely abstract works. But even when she’s creating functional wares, Poston means for her pieces to be seen in the round, like sculpture. “An object may be static,” she says, “but there are lines and inflection points that always lead the viewer somewhere, whether it’s a literal line on a surface or the lines created by edges.”

For Poston, who studied industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design and worked for designer Kelly Wearstler in Los Angeles, primarily developing her lighting collection, exploring clay’s possibilities led to a revelation. “Working with my hands makes me feel like I am an honest representation of myself,” she muses. “Previously, it always felt like something was missing, and I was not quite satisfied with my design profession.”

Jenny Poston walks into her Quonset hut studio in Southeast Portland

Poston works out of a Quonset hut studio in Southeast Portland.

A wall with sketches

Poston's sketches of ideas are pinned to a wall in her studio. The artist studied at The Rhode Island School of Design.

Jenny Poston in studio with lighting collection on a table

Portland artist Jenny Poston's work runs the gamut from small vessels to larger-scale pieces, including lighting.

Three hanging pendant lights

A trio of pendant lights hangs from a shelf. Prior to launching her own collections, Poston worked with designer Kelly Wearstler.

A collection of smaller ceramic pieces.

A collection of smaller-scale ceramic pieces shows the variety of Poston's work.

Four fantastical pieces

The artist's inspiration is varied, and her work takes on a variety of shapes.

Self-taught in her current medium, the artist doesn’t shy away from trying something new. Recently, she’s become fascinated with nerikomi, a Japanese technique in which the potter builds pieces using slices of colored clay. “It’s more of a pure form if you’re not adding things to the surface, like a glaze,” she says. Poston is also building a lighting collection that reflects her wide-ranging interests. A fan of Brutalist architecture, she incorporated the style’s repetitive patterns and monolithic forms into her Butterfly lamp. Her fascination with structure and anatomy led to her almost skeletal Lattice lamp.

Then there’s her “Waste Naught” series of gracefully curved vessels, which originated from a desire to make use of leftover clay. She began removing slices of the material and returning them to her forms in different places. “With just a few motions, I could create something completely different,” she marvels. But she also produces purely sculptural pieces, and on any given day she happily alternates between the two. “That movement back and forth keeps me interested and my brain exercised,” she says. “I could be working on a sculpture, but if I scale it down, it could be a cool table. One idea can be expanded into so many different things.”

While Poston’s work often transcends the traditional, functional history of her medium—“I laugh at myself because I make so many things that can’t hold water, which is the antithesis of pottery,” she admits—she hopes that viewers appreciate her pieces for what they are. “The lines, the shape and the colors,” she says. “Hopefully it brings joy to them every time they look at it, and maybe it’s a little different every time.”