Collaborative Ceramics

Some of KleinReid's ceramics
Some of KleinReid's ceramics

In 1993, two high school friends turned college art majors made the move after graduate school from their hometown of Akron, Ohio to the Big Apple. The pair decided to make ceramic pieces at night in their small, low-tech studio using a borrowed wheel and an olive barrel as a makeshift slip cast vat. They were broke, but they said they chose to do it anyway.

Eighteen years later, the duo of James Klein and David Reid are trying to work their way into the field of contemporary studio pottery with their firm, KleinReid. Their work is highly sought after and influential on home décor.

Despite the success of their business, Klein and Reid have only one desire: To create pieces they love.

And that’s exactly what they hoped SUNY New Paltz art students would take away from their presentation of their work during the Art Seminar Course on Wednesday, April 6.

“The most meaningful aspect of what we do is coming up with an idea and making it into art,” Klein said. “Business is just necessary.”

Klein and Reid showed their collections from as early as graduate work from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., respectively, to their most recent collections, a line of Japanese Kokeshi dolls and rustic relief tiles.

Their presentation also showcased their works for prestigious design firms such as Herman Miller and Dansk, and their collaboration with ceramics legend Eva Zeisel, who Klein and Reid idolize.

The pair approached Zeisel in 1999 to ask to collaborate with her, and a friendship and working relationship was born. The day after their first meeting they sat on her porch at her upstate country home and cut paper silhouettes and shapes for inspiration. They fit and stacked these shapes together to create whole new shapes for their 16 piece “Eva” collection, which is still one of KleinReid’s most popular lines in production.

Other showcased collections included “Hybrid,” industrial meets an aquatic set of wares comprised of cylindrical tubes. The Oscar Wilde-inspired “Still Life” collection of slip cast objects including apples, vases and books, is a marriage of vintage shapes with a modern feel. The collection of vases with heavy flower detailing was based off of Wilde’s story “The Selfish Giant.”

KleinReid also creates jewelry and silk-screen prints.

Students were able to ask questions after the presentation and inquired about the duo’s collaboration process.

“I’m more of a shape person, while David comes up with ideas and concepts,” said Klein. “Individually we’re half interested, but together we make one very interested person.”

This combined approach is what struck Jessica Shada, a transfer student majoring in photography. She said she feels it’s helpful for artists to work with someone else in order to receive criticisms.

Shada said she also loved the old meets new vibe of the “Still life” collection, because it reflects her own artistic style. She took away an important message from the lecture.

“I liked that they believed in not marketing for anyone, but in just making great art,” said Shada.

KleinReid has been featured in many design and home magazines, including Elle Décor and Wallpaper Magazine. Their work has been shown in many gallery and museum exhibitions, and has even been featured on movie and television sets, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

But press is just part of the business for KleinReid.

“It’s much more meaningful when someone comes up to us and tells us they love and collect our work,” said Reid. “It’s those personal moments that are the most rewarding.”