Art

The Pottery Mill

Ceramics studio J.Schatz breathes new life into Olneyville's Weybosset Mills

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In the early 2000s in Upstate New York, Jim Schatz decided he was unhappy with the lackluster wooden bird feeder he had hanging outside his window. He decided the birds deserved something much nicer, and set about learning ceramics by teaching himself and working with local artisans. He had always been fascinated by the shape of eggs, and had made lamps previously, but had no formal training other than a degree in fine arts from San Francisco State.

His final design, the Egg Bird Feeder, was one of Fortune Magazine’s 25 Best Products of 2004. He went on to experiment with new shapes, functionalities and techniques – a hobby which grew into J. Schatz, a ceramics company making houses and feeders for many different bird species as well as lighting lines, table and kitchenware, and more.

Jim describes his aesthetic as “brutalist, yet elegant” and his lines as “small, beautiful, detailed products you can’t find anywhere else.” Some pieces are made freehand, like the Brutal Coffeemaker with matching cups, while some use molds and extreme precision for a perfectly uniform look in glazed stoneware or porcelain, like the Star Egg night-lights which project points of light onto the wall through tiny openings. Many items are glazed with extremely bright and whimsical colors, while some are white or more subdued and earth-toned. Currently, J. Schatz sells 25,000 products in 14 countries worldwide.

During his time in upstate New York, Jim met his partner Peter Souza, who creates ceramics and runs the business alongside him. For about a decade J. Schatz was based in Los Angeles, but eventually the couple sought more spacious and affordable pastures – while remaining close to the water. After scouting all over New England, they found that Providence had the right attributes and vibe they were looking for, but it was a series of coincidences that ultimately led to their stunning new headquarters in a converted Olneyville textile mill.

A disappointing Airbnb rental when they first landed here near the end of 2015 ended up being a blessing in disguise, because it inspired them to stay at the boutique Dean Hotel downtown. They became hotel fixtures for a couple of weeks, meeting all kinds of folks while hanging out at the hotel’s bars and restaurant. Disproving the stereotype that all New Englanders are insular and unfriendly to outsiders, Peter and Jim soon made friends with a number of movers and shakers in the city. A server they chatted with at the Grange suggested they head up the street to Olneyville to check out the studio spaces there, and the perfect building awaited them: the old dye house for Weybossett Mills. Unfortunately, it was recentlyunder contract; they toured it anyway. Within days, the contract with the initial buyers fell through, and J. Schatz’s bid was accepted.

The couple set about transforming the 5,200-square-foot space into a working studio, a showroom and living quarters, as well as two small guest apartments for visitors. With 20-foot ceilings and plenty of light coming through the high windows, the building has become a beautiful, modern, airy-feeling space while still retaining its rustic old mill charm through touches like original wooden support beams and painted brick walls.

Peter and Jim are currently advocating with city planners to keep the Olneyville area affordable for artist residents over the long term. They’re also committed to keeping their company growth sustainable and sourcing products inside the U.S.; their one employee helps apply the non-toxic painted glaze and assist with other aspects of product creation. An obvious commitment to quality and community and a love of design and good living have made them an excellent fit for Providence’s ethos.

J. Schatz
46 Dike Street
344-5267