January 22, 2014

Local Potter Teams up with Chefs to Create Service Ware that Complements their Food


FROM KILN TO KITCHEN: The artistry of potter John Shedd, left, and Mistral restaurant chef Ben Nerenhausen come together when dishes prepared by Mr. Nerenhausen are served on hand-crafted ceramics by Mr. Shedd, whose unique designs have been specially created for use in the Witherspoon Street restaurant. The full range of Mr. Shedd’s work can be viewed at www.johnshedddesigns.com. (Photo by Steven Haase, GrowthAgents, Hopewell)

Art potter John Shedd has found a perfect niche working in collaboration with restauranteurs and chefs specializing in locally sourced artisanal fare. It’s an arrangement that brings together hand-crafted ceramics with culinary creations.

Restaurants Mistral, elements, and Tre Piani are among those using Mr. Shedd’s unique serving pieces for their customers.

“Scott Anderson [who owns both Mistral and elements] came by my studio about three years ago and commissioned some sushi trays. We had known each other since Scott’s days at the Ryland Inn and when he opened elements in Princeton he commissioned work from me. It all developed from there,” said Mr. Shedd last week at Mistral.

“It’s tremendous working with Scott and with other local chefs,” said Mr. Shedd, who clearly relishes the challenge of fulfilling a demand for small editions of unique items designed to compliment rather than compete with a chef’s culinary

Sometimes a request will take the potter in new directions as when Mr. Anderson asked for a bowl that would look like a rock. “I had three weeks to come up with a design, carve a model from soapstone and then make about 120 pieces,” recalled Mr. Shedd. “It was for an event and each of the 80 dinner guests took a bowl home with them, that was a very nice touch.”

Mistral offers small plates using fresh local fare. Chef Ben Nerenhausen’s menu has been described as “varied and inventive.”

“I’ve been working with Mistral for some time now and I love working with Ben,” said the potter of the restaurant where the dishes are inspired by many cultures including Mediterranean, Asian and regional American. “Our style is organic and distinctive and as far from cookie cutter as you can get,” said Mr. Nerenhausen. “We prepare unique dishes and, since people eat first with their eyes, we recognize the importance of presentation. John is able to provide us with serving plates, platters, and bowls in the different shapes and sizes we need. The pieces he creates evoke dishes such as these red and yellow beets on this earthern plate that is perfectly rustic, almost torn from the earth,” he said, referencing a rectangular platter with a deep brown red glaze on which rested a selection of beets and spoonfuls of creme fraiche. The presentation made the humble root vegetable look ravishing as well as scrumptious.

“It’s fun to have someone with a definite idea of what they want,” said Mr. Shedd. “The reciprocal feedback forms a loop which is very satisfying and it’s wonderful to see an application for what I do.”

Working for chefs is not new to the potter who has, in the past, produced items for the then chef at Jasna Polana. In addition to dinnerware, he creates serving pieces and does decorative tile work (including Mistral’s signature design of a wind-blown tree). “I much prefer this to anything else that I do,” he said, adding that there is also “something special about working with a small enterprise, not too big, not too small, hands-on and personal. People who have eaten in the restaurants notice the way their food is served. They often ask about the plates and then come to the gallery to purchase items for their own tables.”

The potter’s wife Sloane Browning is a decorative painter who shares her husband’s interest in glazes. The couple live in Griggstown not far from the gallery/studio.

Born in Rockford, Illinois, Mr. Shedd came to New Jersey by way of New Mexico and South Carolina. He settled in the Princeton area in 1979 and opened his Rocky Hill studio that year in a 200-year-old converted mill near the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The building was once a gristmill and dates back to the early 1700s. It is now part of the Rocky Hill Historic Preservation District.

Having grown up on a farm, Mr. Shedd has always felt close to the earth. But he broke from family tradition and discovered a talent for working with the earth in a different way when he took a ceramics class as a student at Rockford College. After receiving a BFA in ceramics, he went onto graduate work at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, receiving an MFA in ceramics in 1977. Since then, his work has been featured in many individual and group shows and exhibited in shops and galleries nationwide

The potter/artist believes that art and culture should be accessible to all in everyday life. Exploring glazes and ceramic surface decoration has captivated his
interest for more than 30 years. It is work that rewards in terms of artistic honesty, or as Mr. Shedd puts it: “the honest embodiment of the beauty inherent in a natural material.”

John Shedd Designs, located at 200 Washington St Rocky Hill, showcases the range of Mr. Shedd’s creations, from platters pitchers, vases, backsplashes and candlesticks to lamps and tilework. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

For more information, call (609) 924-6394, or visit: www.johnshedddesigns.com. For more on Mistral at 66 Witherspoon Street, call (609) 688-8808, or visit: www.mistralprinceton.com; for more on elements at 163 Bayard Lane, call (609) 924.0078, or visit: www.elementsprinceton.com.