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Melissa Goldstein’s Hand-Painted Ceramics, Inspired by Her Brooklyn Garden

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Melissa Goldstein’s Hand-Painted Ceramics, Inspired by Her Brooklyn Garden

December 14, 2022

Melissa Goldstein creates a garden of earthy delights with MG by Hand, her line of hand-painted porcelain ceramics. Her cobalt and white platters, vases, dishes, and bowls capture the nuances of plants: the curve of a petal, the graceful line of a leaf, the intricate patterning of a blossom. “I love things that grow and evolve,” she says. “The idea of transformation is very seductive.”

Goldstein’s passion for the natural world stems from her childhood, when she would venture into the forest to gather mushrooms with her father and the composer John Cage. They taught her how to collect spores from mushroom caps, look at the designs the spore prints made, and inspect the gills to know which fungi were edible. “This early exposure to the infinite varieties within nature was magical, and a gift I have carried throughout my life,” she says.

Now it’s her Brooklyn garden that provides her with endless inspiration. Most mornings during the growing season you’ll find her outside, cultivating roses, peonies, and poppies. As she weeds and deadheads, she also carefully observes each plant to incorporate into her ceramics later.

Another source of inspiration is art: paintings, such as Fairfield Porter’s collection of “messy tables,” still-lifes by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, and a wide range of botanical illustrations. A keen researcher (she’s a sought-after photography consultant, with clients including The New Yorker magazine, Calvin Klein, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation), Goldstein can spend hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s library, “which amazingly is open to anyone,” poring through books—volumes of original Japanese woodblock botanicals, for instance. “It’s a festival of gorgeousness,” she says. She also explores early English and German botanical drawings and has recently become smitten with Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta (2020, Getty Publications), a handwriting sampler from the 16 th century made for Emperor Ferdinand Hapsburg, embellished with exquisite botanical illustrations by Joris Hoefnagel.

Once she’s decided on what plant to depict, she lets it guide her on the form it will take. “I get obsessed with a flower and know pretty quickly how it will fill the object,” she says. “Right now, I am longing for that cinnamon scent of dianthus, and am determined to make a giant platter with one spiraling out from the center.” And so her garden grows.

Photography by Melissa Goldstein, unless otherwise noted.

A selection of MG by Hand platters come in a range of sizes and shapes.
Above: A selection of MG by Hand platters come in a range of sizes and shapes.
Goldstein’s Brooklyn garden provides inspiration and solace for her. In spring it’s dotted with alliums, iris, and ferns.
Above: Goldstein’s Brooklyn garden provides inspiration and solace for her. In spring it’s dotted with alliums, iris, and ferns.
In addition to botanicals, Goldstein also has a series of plates depicting birds in flight and elegantly drawn numbers, which you can see here and in her sketch book. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
Above: In addition to botanicals, Goldstein also has a series of plates depicting birds in flight and elegantly drawn numbers, which you can see here and in her sketch book. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
“I love pattern,” Goldstein says. “All that wild layering that just fits together somehow like in this image of a zinnia vase.”
Above: “I love pattern,” Goldstein says. “All that wild layering that just fits together somehow like in this image of a zinnia vase.”
A large martagon lily plate takes center stage on a dining table. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
Above: A large martagon lily plate takes center stage on a dining table. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
Poppies and zinnias bloom in summer in Goldstein’s garden.
Above: Poppies and zinnias bloom in summer in Goldstein’s garden.
After Goldstein throws or presses the form in clay and lets it dry, she draws the design in pencil and then paints it in cobalt, or skips the pencil sketch and paints it directly onto the form before the first firing. “At this point the cobalt turns black and is a fine powder on the piece,” she says. Since she doesn’t have a booth to spray glaze onto the image to set it, she uses “a very arcane process of blowing the glaze onto the piece for the first coat.” Once set, she paints three more coats of glaze and fires the piece to \238\1 degrees for about \1\2 hours, and lets it cool for a couple of days before it’s ready to go.
Above: After Goldstein throws or presses the form in clay and lets it dry, she draws the design in pencil and then paints it in cobalt, or skips the pencil sketch and paints it directly onto the form before the first firing. “At this point the cobalt turns black and is a fine powder on the piece,” she says. Since she doesn’t have a booth to spray glaze onto the image to set it, she uses “a very arcane process of blowing the glaze onto the piece for the first coat.” Once set, she paints three more coats of glaze and fires the piece to 2381 degrees for about 12 hours, and lets it cool for a couple of days before it’s ready to go.
Her work has drawn the admiration of Ina Garten and Reese Witherspoon. You can find her vases and other pieces on her website and at stores like March SF, The Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark, MA, and E-E Home in Amagansett, NY. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
Above: Her work has drawn the admiration of Ina Garten and Reese Witherspoon. You can find her vases and other pieces on her website and at stores like March SF, The Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark, MA, and E-E Home in Amagansett, NY. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.

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