Founded in 2012, North Carolina-based ceramics company Haand takes its name from the archaic Norse word for hand. “We liked that it was immediately recognizable, but strange,” says co-founder and designer Mark Warren, “like reading it makes your brain skip a beat.” Recognizable but strange is a pervasive theme throughout Haand’s work. The company creates simple products that are inspired by vernacular objects, but imbues a unique, one-of-a-kind quality into each of them. Their “cloudware” and “stormware” pieces, for instance, are uniform in shape, but given a marbelized look by using two different colors of slip during the casting process. “All our work is designed by hand then cast and glazed using our specific materials, tools, and methods,” Mark continues, “so when it travels through the production line, it becomes ‘haandmade.'” Take a closer look at Haand’s story + process below!
WE: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
MW: I was born in North Florida, and grew up at the beach there until I went to school in Connecticut. After college, I spent some time floating around Florida and Mississippi; I worked at a bathing suit factory and saved up enough to live on my family’s farm in Stone County, MS near Biloxi/Gulfport and built some drawing machines and synthesizers. I was drifting around and may have continued to do so, but a mentor told me to apply to Penland School of Crafts’ fellowship program which covered room, board and tuition for 2 years. I was there from 2009-2011 and studied with some amazing artists and craftspeople. It was there that I was introduced to ceramics for the first time and got the chance to really delve into the field.
How did Haand come to be?
I met my business partner Chris when we were both in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. We stayed friends throughout college and post-college. Chris had been working as an accountant in Jacksonville after he graduated college, and was ready to get out of the 9-5 world of corporate accounting. We started to talk about owning a ceramic business in 2011 and by 2012, we were living in a dilapidated farmhouse outside of Durham, NC, paying $60 a month in rent and starting to make work.
Who or what would you say has been the biggest influence on you and your work?
Ancient and contemporary everyday vernacular functional objects; the incidental pieces (cups, bowls, pitchers etc) seen and half-remembered in sci fi movies; ad hoc’ed single function items meant to solve a problem. Intention is really important to me—I am not really drawn to slick things whose sole purpose is to look good. I like awkward and strange objects that feel inexplicably good in your hand. I love Edmund DeWaal’s writing and work, and David Pye’s two books The Nature and Aesthetics of Design and The Nature and Art of Workmanship are the philosophical foundations for design and production at Haand.
What is your design process like?
I try to be a sponge and observe everything around me, especially the little incidental things that evoke an emotion and have poignancy. I try to enter a meditative state when I am working on an idea, making as many multiples and iterations of an original idea as time allows. Because we make functional wares, a lot of the parameters are already established—a 12 oz coffee mug must hold 12 oz, but what that shape looks like can be anything. I try to remove as much excess flourish and information as possible, which helps turn the final piece into a calm and happy object. I sculpt the original models by hand, using rasps, files, gouges etc. I then use plaster to create a mold off of the model. Once the mold is dry, we cast the piece in porcelain and fire it. We make all of our clay and glazes in our studio, so we can control and tweak the materials as much as possible to get what we are looking for.
You’re known for your “cloudware” and “stormware” ceramics. Tell us a bit about those and what the process is like to create them.
These pieces are made using two different colors of clay slip mixed together. The first time I ever saw it in action was when my friend Jason was making some cups to look like orange cream sherbet popsicles in a class we took at Penland. I love the process because each piece is the same form but because of the process we use to make them, every single one is unique and different. Swirled and marbled clay has a really long history. It was probably created by someone mixing together two different colored clays and then noticing that in the final product you can see the lines and marbling created. It was used initially to be a way to cheaply make something look expensive—like a fine marble vase or goblet. I love that we can use such an old technique today and do the same thing. The Cloudware is intended to look like Wedgwood jasper-ware, and the blue and white looks like the sky on clear summer day. The Stormware is similar in process, but I wanted to reference the color and feeling of looking at storms come in over the ocean in Florida—my father and I would climb onto our roof and watch these clouds develop on hot summer afternoons and it has always stuck with me.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned running a business?
Stick with it and don’t give up. This is super obvious, but what I mean is that you can’t ever give up if you want to have your own business. Don’t expect to make any money for a very long time—if you want the business to thrive, it is essential to re-invest as much as possible back into your staff, equipment, materials, etc. You have to be incredibly stubborn to get anything done, and the more success you have, the more work you will have to do to keep it running. Hire good people who speak their minds and are tough cusses, too.
You created a mug in opposition to North Carolina’s HB2 legislation. Can you tell us about what inspired you to do that?
We were inspired because if you don’t stand up to bullies, they will continue to gain power and pick on people. What is happening with HB2 (and it’s half-assed recent repealment) is absolutely wrong, mean-spirited, and bigoted. If you see something wrong in the world, say something and try to do something. An object becomes an artifact after a period of time, and people should remember what is happening in North Carolina and learn from it.
What’s next for Haand?
We mostly work with restaurants and the hospitality industry. We love to work with chefs and designers to create unique and meaningful dining experiences. Sustainability and focusing on high quality, ethically produced foods are huge trends in the fine dining world, and without a doubt have a huge societal impact. We love creating canvases for the food that is an essential part of this conversation.