This summer I took a job in New York for two weeks at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. There were two lucky things about taking this job. One, I stayed with my college roommate (not really relevant to this article) and two, I found a little gem in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, New York called Choplet Pottery and Ceramic Studio. Choplet is a turquoise building that houses a small gallery, interior working space, and exterior garden area for those who want to work in ceramics. At a fair price, anyone from the working artist, crafter or novice can take a class or pay for studio time to practice with clay materials. Wheels and hand building structures, such as slab roller and turn plates are always available for use, but the real value of Choplet Pottery and Ceramic Studio is being surrounded by problem-solvers who support each others. For hand-builders or wheel throwers, the space is explosive because of the creative energy bursting from every corner. I interviewed Nadeige Choplet, owner and artist, on my last day so I could share notes with you on the maker and shaker of this little shop.
Tell me how Choplet was started.
The idea behind opening the studio space was because I did not want to be alone all day. I was producing and selling ceramics day in and day out. My husband would call or come by to check on me and that would lead into me asking for his thoughts about certain things. This is when it occurred to me how much I like to be surrounded by people and wondered how nice it would be to share my studio with others who were like-minded. Williamsburg is known as an artistic neighborhood of painters and sculptors. I thought, ‘If I am able to share my knowledge of clay with other artist then maybe it would encourage them to try something outside of their medium.’
“I am not a business person –I am an artist who owns a studio and would like to share my ideas”. -N.Choplet
I decided to call it Choplet, which is my last name, because it was a little shop and Americans would always pronounce my name “Shoplet.” Instead of hating it, I decided to embrace it as ‘the little shop.’ I started with four wheels downstairs (basement level), which was my studio space. This first level was my living quarters as well as upstairs.
You have another space somewhere else. Can you tell me more about that space?
Sure. Williamsburg Ceramic Center (WCC), it’s for artist who really need a professional space to work in without any assistance. Ceramicist in that space are able to load their own kilns, mix or get their own glazes.
Approximately 50-60% of the artist at Williamsburg Ceramic Center started here at Choplet and that is because we provide so much open studio time here that people get good. The classes are important but if you do not have the time to practice you will not improve. Remember that practice makes perfect.
Ceramics is all based on time. The right time to do things. People get better, start producing a lot and selling on Etsy. A lot of people have been able to quit their day job and do this full-time. They may need that platform at WCC because they need that space. Others have open their own individual studios.
It’s awesome that you help students cultivate ideas that can lead to making ceramics as a full-time job.
Everybody is very generous with their knowledge. If you see something that someone else is doing, let’s say on the wheel, then Choplet studio space allows you to ask ‘how do you do that?’ Even though people wear their iPods or zone out, there is a respectful working environment here that everyone can be a part of.
Tell me about your instructors, how are they hired and what are you looking for?
For an instructor, I look for someone who can do both hand building and wheel throwing. I don’t like to separate approaches because as an artist I combine techniques. I may want to throw something on the wheel and then hand build a piece onto it. Then, I may want to come back to the wheel again, just because. I personally don’t think these two things should be taught separately.
Then there’s a practical side. If I were to label the class as one or the other, most people wouldn’t sign up. Wheel throwing is like a martial art. It takes practice over and over again to be good at it. Wheel throwing may turn people off so hand-building is another option to guide their work. It’s about keeping people happy, plus a lot of creativity has come from each method.
“Also I need someone who is excited about art.” -N. Choplet
I look for creativity in an instructor. They don’t just create copies. My instructors do not give assignments but instead demonstrate a lot of techniques. If instructors are generous but not imposing, people tend to find their own styles. Choplet’s instructors are able to step back and allow students to find their own path.
Who are you as an artist and what do you create?
The artist is an easy one. As an artist, I started with painting and textiles design – I love color. That is one of the reasons why we have so many glazes here. So, I approach ceramics the same way I paint and do not choose between sculpture and design. That is why I felt so at ease in New York. You could be a “Jeff Koons” make a sculpture and then go sell reproductions of the object. No one points his or her finger at you and tells you “no.” In France, it was different, there were two schools. One was for design arts and the other was the Beaux-Arts school in Paris for painting and sculpture. There wasn’t a university that did both. One didn’t touch the other but now it’s changing. But don’t get me wrong, it’s great to preserve traditional approaches.
“Oh it’s too beautiful to use”. -N. Choplet
For my own work, I don’t need to sell anymore. The design work was super important to me in the beginning before I opened up Choplet studio. I was going to leave and sell my one of a kind teapots all over the country but people didn’t want to use them. If the objects were non-functional and all hand painted they sold more easily as art. On the flip side, there was also my design work that would generate a steady income. Now I am able to combine all of my ideas. I can make a sculptural bust and put a teapot on its head and birds hanging from the ear. I am finally able to combine all the design experience with sculpture to create my work.
My last two commissioned works were made for a home interior. One was a 26-foot long branch with flowers and leaves for an interior space of a home. It was for the manufacturer of American Dolls. Another one was the an 18-foot tree in porcelain for an indoor swimming pool. Flowers, birds were on a tree as well. Both were relief sculpture and fun. One of a kind works.
Who are you as a person?
Awful-ha! I am very honest. I am driven, really hard-working and this place didn’t build itself. It requires a lot of work and passion. I will never get wealthy, but I am surrounding with really good energy. I pay my bills and have really great friends. The guy who teaches on Sunday started three months after I opened this place and has been working here ever since. He is a best friend. It’s a family. Fairness is very important to me as well. Everything is done in fairness. I treat everyone the same even if I know you outside of the studio.
I love life. It’s not easy. We won a lottery to be here so you want it to be meaningful. Keep that light sparkling.