Thomsen Clayworks: Handmade Pottery in Los Angeles

April 20, 2021

Today we visit the studio of artist Larry Thomsen, creator of Thomsen Clayworks. A studio he runs entirely on his own; throwing, carving, painting, and firing every piece by hand in the confines of his studio. Through out his carrier Larry has sold work at The LA Gift Show, The Brack Shops, Laguna Art Fair and many more. The next few sections will take us through his journey as a young artist navigating the LA pottery scene in the 70s and 80s, his present artistic vision, and the rise of pottery today.

Thomsen Clayworks, has played an essential role in the history of the Los Angeles pottery scene. To find his most recent and exclusive pieces head to the Mellowist in LA. To jump to a current list of nurseries and boutiques that sell his work scroll down.

A Brief History

Larry took a liking to pottery at a young age. His first exposure to the potters wheel was in 1968 during his junior year ceramics class at Whittier High School. From that point on he was hooked. The next few years of education he focused solely on furthering his knowledge on ceramics and everything else related to art. After high school, Larry attended Rio Honda College where he majored in art, enrolling himself in everything the department had to offer. From life drawing, to print making, art history and of course his main focus ceramics. It was a passion that never left and he continued to thrive.

After a few years at Rio Hondo he left to attend Cal State Fullerton. A stint that lasted about a year, until his involvement with a local band working with the sound equipment. Gg work “side tracked” him into going to concerts, being on the road and recording in the studio. Not the worst thing to get sidetracked by if you ask me. Where are those pictures?

Band life didn’t last forever. In the early 70’s he was asked by a local artist, Vicky Taylor, to create a line of pottery to compliment her ceramic beed line. Without hesitation Larry decided to go for it, and with the help of his friend Jon, they began to create a line of pottery. Not long afterwards the duo caught the eye of a rep from LAs famous market place, The Brack Shops. With this new development the line exploded! Word spread and people fell in love. Larry and Jon started shipping pottery all over creating new works non-stop around the clock.

In 1975, at the age of 23, Larry started his first business, The Studio Pottery. The studio was located in an old citrus packing warehouse in Whittier, CA. He hopped around the area from studio to studio about every five years to accommodate the rapid growth of the business. By the 80s he was working with 3 kilns and creating over 2,000 pieces a week. He had gone from one employee to as many as 15 to help with pushing out orders. At this time, he was hooked up with New England Pottery and was creating planters for nurseries and market places all over the US. After selling the business in 1995, Larry went on to sell work at the Laguna Beach Art Fair where he spent 5 years selling pottery.

Fast forward to today and we find our selves at Larrys studio where a lot has changed in past few years, and especially the past 15 months since the pandemic. Recent events have put a new spin on things and breathed a whole new life into his day to day work.

At the Studio

I’ve known Larry for a while…I’m his niece after all #spoiler.  His studio is incredible….outside, surrounded by day light, full of wide open space. It’s a dream for any artist.

It never fails that I always forget the name of the street Larry lives on, so instead I keep an eye out for his garden. Lol. It’s a garden with a collection of plants like no other. Especially for a succulent/cactus lover. The variety and quality of his collection is amazing. Not only beautiful, but unique and with history. Some having been there for decades.

After admiring the garden for a few minutes I head to the studio. Walking up I’m immediately welcomed by a ball of fluff. It took us a while to become friends, but we got there eventually. The cat of the house could careless I’ve arrived and wants nothing to do with anything. And that makes me love him right away.  Lol.

Larry’s study is in the back of the house in a wide-open space, with two kilns, a potters wheel and everything else you need to turn a hunk of clay into a ceramic master piece. With nothing but sky above, the dreamiest light is spilling in, from all directions. We couldn’t have chose abetter day for shooting.

The studio is littered with pots. He’s been working on a few big orders, and has a custom order ready for pick up this morning. Walking through the studio I keep finding treasure everywhere. I want that one, and that one, and that one. Larrys work is timeless. It can appeal to everyone and can work with anything in any situation.

All along the work bench are towers of ‘greenware’ pots ready for banding. Banding is kind of his thing right now. The recent slice of artistic freedom, due to our current events, allowed him the opportunity to experiment. With the help of social media and branching out to Instagram, @thomsenclayworks, his banded pottery has peaked the interest of many instagramers, nurseries and boutiques around the world. 

Banding is a technique that utilizes….a banding wheel of course.  The wheel consistently spins the pot/vase, as he chooses from a selection of colors to create colored bands.  It’s essentially a turntable used for decorating, sculpting or carving.  Watching him ‘band’ the pots is memorizing. At times I found myself lost in thought watching the pot spin and spin, the brush splashing into the different pigments and then gently grazing the surface…over and over this happened.  Pot after pot, without skipping a beat, is completed with a unique color band. NO pot is the same.  Every step happening in a fluid motion much like a dance. 

With the towers of pots banded, the pots are ready to fire.

Firing

Firing clay transforms the brittle soft surface into its final most durable stage, ceramics.  For this process to take place the temperature must be exactly right and hot AF. This process takes place in a kiln, which is most commonly electric or gas, but can also be fired by wood. We will touch base on that more later. 

A little more logistics on firing, it is a process that bonds the clay and the glazes or pigments at a very, very high temperature. That process, also known as melting, permeates the two together.  The melting process comes in two different forms, bisque firing and glaze firing. Today we are dealing with bisque firing. Bisque firing is a process referring to a specific type of clay called greenware which happens to be very fragile. In fact, I barely looked at a pot in the studio and it shattered…Larry forgave me.

The kiln is brought to temperature very, very slowly. On a an electric kiln, temperatures are recorded and measured digitally, alerting your every step of the way. On a gas kiln you use something called cones and a cone pack. The polymeric cones measure the heat and are monitored through a small peep hole.  As the cones absorb the heat it matures and dips down into a bow. Expressing its ‘doneness’.  Here Larry is using a cone 2 and 5.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay behind a few more days to watch Larry pull the pots out. Next time I pass through we decided on a day of throwing and carving… Stay tuned for that in the coming months. 

The Rise of Pottery

Nowadays, you can find pottery everywhere. It has become more accessible and versatile than ever before. Artists from all over the world, in all fields, are using clay in incredible ways to create diverse works of art.  From stand-alone pieces found in galleries and museums, to street markets and boutiques shops, hand-carved pendant lights, ramen bowls, minimalist dining wear, and pots of all shapes and sizes. People from all industries are commissioning potters to create functional ceramics that bring individuality to all aspects of daily life. Instagram has put ceramics on a pedestal, highlighting its versatility as a coveted design feature. The rise of hand-crafted goods is catching the eye of more and more, people everyday. Creating a much needed movement of rejecting factory-produced homeware and goods, by embracing the hand-made small business entrepreneur.

Pottery has transformed through generations to mean many different things and have many different functions.  It has traditional and basic functions, and comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors.  This trend has been going on for a few years now, and the rise in popularity of handcrafted pottery shows no sign of declining; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The Succulent Community

Larry is a huge plant lover of all kinds, but cacti and succulents hold a very special place in his heart. His garden is a sight to be seen and could be a whole other blog post in itself! Its insane..seriously. Let say this, he has the garden you dream of and the pottery to boot. 

His history of being in the plant and pottery community has created relationships spanning years. Those connections and a year of artistic freedom have expanded his outreach to cactus collectors all over. Instagram brought on a whole new life to Thomsen Clay Works reaching people beyond boundaries and in several different countries. With the pandemic happening around the globe plant enthusiasts and hobbyists popped up from the shadows in a big way. Instagram has put Larry’s work in front of the masses and the world is loving it! His reach has resulted in connections to cacti and succulent lovers all over the globe.  From LA, to Central America, all the way to Nara, Japan. 

Okay, so where do I find his work?

You can buy from him directly by sending a DM on Instagram or Facebook.  Most of Larry’s work are one offs and unique pieces made on a whim, so act fast!! Larry is an avid poster.  He’s constantly posting about works in progress and special orders. The key is to be mindful of his posts, any work that he makes as a one off he sells directly through IG and they go fast!  

If you aren’t able to get your hands on his pottery directly, then try your luck at these nurseries and boutiques.

@gtnursery @amigomodern @plantdepotsjc @deedees_garden @alltime.plants @mellowist @desert_creations @califronia_cactus_center

Resources

Banding Wheels 

Laguna Clay Company

Kiln Guide

#pottery #ceramics  #cone5 #lapottery #potterylove #bandedpots #whittierca #larrythomsen #handmade #brackshops

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