Tabletop Theater - Page 3

Setting a ‘dining stage’ of quiet drama—East Bay ceramicist Jered Nelson and his distinguished handmade modern plating
Tabletop Theater
This extraordinary serving bowl was created by Jered for 'Clay with Your Food' and shown to a chef who was asked to plate it shortly before the event.
Tabletop Theater
Far left: The tools Jered uses every day sit conveniently by his wheel.
Tabletop Theater
Chef Derek Edwards watches as Jered demonstrates his craft during 'Clay with Your Food.'
Tabletop Theater
Handmade, these unusually looking brushes are from items Jered found while on walks. He uses them to paint his plates.

Even while living in Dakota Jered had been finding buyers in California, where he would visit his brother and drive around hawking ceramics to crafts shops. It was on such a trip that he spotted the sign: 'Jiggerman wanted at Heath Ceramics.' "I had never heard of Heath but had been a jiggerman," Jered says.

Soon he was part of a team developing dinnerware prototypes, and conducting tooling and production training, for that bastion of California Cuisine, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley. Jered was also helping Heath modernize its production techniques. All the while he was doing ceramics on his own.

Ironically, the more Heath modernized the less Jered felt at home there. He prefers work that shows the hand of the potter more than was possible the new Heath way.

"I respect their path," he says. "They wanted to do American manufacturing, they wanted people to know that it could still be done in this country, and they did what they had to do. But I'm a potter."

"My clients are into the details," he says. "It's part of the process, and it takes training and time and the right tools, and a lot of working things out in order to get it right. And you can see that in the final pieces, even if it is not something that is overtly there. It's something you feel about the piece, something different about it. You can see the person in it somehow."

In 2010, shortly after his son was born, Jered quit Heath to go it alone as a potter, a risky financial proposition. Did his wife approve? "Heck, yeah," Jered says. "She's a dreamer. She's brave."

Jered got into restaurant work not because of his Chez Panisse experience but by chance. His Berkeley shop was across San Pablo Avenue from an auto repair firm where a woman who handles design for restaurateur Michael Mina was having her Mercedes repaired. She paid a call.

"She asked me if I could make samples out of porcelain and send them to her," Jered recalls. "Heck, yeah."

Once Jered got his plates into Michael Mina's namesake San Francisco eatery, other chefs noticed. "Everybody was going to the restaurant, and then picking up the plates and looking at the bottom," where his name is stamped, Jered says.

One client who appreciates Jered's detail is interior design manager Kirsten Fordyce-Wheeler, who both dines off his plates and has suggested that her clients include his ceramic tiles in their offices.

Fordyce-Wheeler lives in an Eichler in Marin County that is filled with design classics by Girard, Eames, Saarinen, Bertoia, and other mid-century designers.

She loves how Jered's serving pieces can do double or triple duty, demonstrating how a casserole lid can flip over to serve as a plate. She has cups and other pieces as well, a small ceramic sculpture, and some one-of-a-kind plates with incised designs.

"There's a story behind the pottery," she says, meaning Jered's story. "It's beautiful to touch, it's beautiful to put food on. It's simple. The lines are beautiful, the hues and colors are beautiful." She also loves that the pieces are locally produced of local clays.

When Jered and Sarah, who live in Richmond, take time off, they do it with Jack. A recent trip delivering product to a buyer in Los Angeles included a stop in Disneyland. They love the beach, which reminds them of the wide-open spaces of the Dakotas.

Among Jered's goals are to improve his equipment so he can produce better pieces, and to do more art. "I'd like to be doing more artistic stuff, for sure," he says.

Jered's one-off works include decorated plates, freestanding pieces, and a large jug incised with text he did for an exhibit last fall in Emeryville. The jug is part of an ongoing project.

"It's a time capsule kind of series where I'm writing on the pots some of the stuff that is going on currently in our political atmosphere," he says.

For a brief time Jered's Pottery, after moving from Berkeley to Richmond, expanded, with Jered and seven assistants, potters, artists, and laborers. Today, working in Emeryville with two, he says he prefers to stay small.

Creating the prototypes for Chez Panisse took a year, with multiple team meetings and much frustration, Jered remembers. Today, he says, "When I design a line of dinnerware for a restaurant, it takes between a day and two weeks."


• Jered's Pottery sells its wares online and at its showroom, 5743-A Horton Street, Emeryville. Online at

Photography: Bart Nagel, Alexandra Loscher, Zachariah Kobrinsky, Sarah Menanix, Alanna Taylor-Tobin; and courtesy Jered's Pottery

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