Many people seem to equate sustainability with using organic materials. While that’s a very important part of it, a lot of factors contribute to making a product – or a brand – truly sustainable. The idea is to think of each step of creation in terms of what can be improved towards our planet and the people who inhabit it. Going chemical-free and using consciously grown materials is critical, but the human factor is just as important. That means making sure the chain of production stems from a fair environment, where employees get living wages, healthcare and benefits. It also means respecting traditional crafting processes, treasuring their cultural value. And, in its own little way, these are all factors the people behind Emerson Creek Pottery take into account.
This beautiful pottery brand has been around since 1977, and its approach is quite a noble one: maintaining the American tradition of pottery making. Based in Virginia, the entire production is local, handcrafted and aesthetically based on the long-standing tradition of American pottery, dating back to colonial times. Even the brand’s name is historic, stemming from a New England creek flowing by Emerson House, where the founders began making pottery way back when.
While their pieces are wholly modern (dinnerware, bakeware, kitchenware and home décor), the American legacy is at the centre of the brand. Emerson Creek’s handcrafted pieces are a visual throwback to how 17th and 18th-century American pottery looked like, taking inspiration from early American Cobalt decoration on stoneware.
In the beginning, all Emerson Creek pieces had simple and monochromatic designs handpainted on them with Japanese Sumi e-brush, a 2,000-year-old technique. When starting out on their first Massachusetts workshop in the 70s, there was only a single pottery wheel on-site; four decades later, they have a whole team of designers and potters making beautiful things in Virginia. Their processes have become streamlined over the years, yet Emerson continues to make handcrafted pieces based on the design of the old masters.
The Emerson Creek Pottery design and techniques have evolved to create their own approach to the classics. Still, the All-American heart remains, to the point that they’ve had their works featured on places like Monticello, Mount Vernon, and the Smithsonian.
As one would expect, the actual pieces from the Emerson Creek gallery are breathtaking. Delicate and classic, they come in a broad array of colours. One thing you can always be sure of when purchasing handcrafts is that there isn’t a single piece just like yours anywhere else on Earth. Even if the same artisans followed the same design a million times, the technique, pulse, and even weather will create different looks every time. It’s a beautiful notion I strive to maintain in my life, having completely unique statement pieces everywhere inside my home, giving it different hues of personality. As Emerson Creek Pottery has existed as a brand for quite some time, you can also find a lot of options depending on your current needs – they even have pet dishes. Also, the motifs of their pieces are quite enchanting, often inspired by natural landscapes, particularly from Virginia.
If you’re around the East Coast, one cool thing about Emerson Creek is that they have an outlet around their workshop, in Bedford, Virginia. The location is beautiful in itself, with distant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a plus, they sell seconds, overstock and more, between 30 and 60% off retail prices.
Emerson Creek items will easily become talk pieces in a home – and the pieces are also non-toxic. Too often, industrially-made dishware contains a percentage of lead, though a fairly small one. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration allows for dishes with small traces of lead to be sold and regulated within the country. There’s one major issue with this logic, however: these can be activated through the use of microwave ovens or even particularly acidic foods and liquids. It’s just the kind of risk that seems the scariest, as these are items in direct contact with the food we put in our mouths.
Emerson Creek, meanwhile, has vowed to keep their production lead-free. The company also complies with California Proposition 65, which requires that all products containing traces of lead be marked as such.
This long-standing brand has made it a point to be a voice in sustainability in more ways than one. Besides being a flagship of American pottery culture by keeping the traditional style and educating customers, they abide by five basic eco-friendly rules.
First, they keep away from lead in all their processes, ensuring non-toxic products for all their customers, their families, and house pets. Second, they’re locally-minded, as every single one of their products is made in the USA, without any industrialised machines in place; just expert potters doing their thing at the workshop. Third, Emerson Creek keeps its packing materials as green as possible, wrapping products with recycled paper, boxes made with 95% recycled fibers, and using the UPS carbon-neutral program for all their online shipments. Fourth, they skip paper as much as they can, doing away with paper catalogues unless customers specifically request them. Fifth, and an essential of so many great sustainable brands for the home: their products are made to last.
Fast fashion becomes particularly dangerous in homewares, as they come into direct contact with the food we consume. And it’s so easy to find safe, beautiful and functional handcrafted kitchenware!
Emerson Creek Pottery is a lovely example, but there are many ways out there to fill up a kitchen’s utensils with fully sustainable products. Buying from local artisans, keeping an eye out for conscious brands and even browsing through garage sales are all great ways to find treasures. Each entrepreneur fair you go to probably has a few potters or other makers of kitchenware, where you can ask them yourself about their processes. The composition is most likely much healthier than anything you may find at a major retailer, and you’ll have more control over the materials inside your kitchen.
Filling your kitchen with conscious utensils and pieces is a small step yet it can do so much to help you create a safe environment for your loved ones. Besides, why go for something a million other people have when you can keep a unique pottery piece close to your heart?
Find out more about this special company here.