Throwing Clay

The Nichibei studio is an Eden all its own – high up in the hills of Sebastopol and surrounded by lush plants, it’s an oasis of intense creativity. It’s also anchored by the charm of Cheryl Costantini, who apprenticed in Japan, and her husband, Mikia, who came to the U.S. in a finance-based career and who eventually found himself drawn into the intricacy of clay carving. Cheryl is quick to say that neither of them can do what the other can – but the synergy between the two of them, and their artistic vision, can’t be called anything other than kismet.

It's hard to pinpoint the aesthetic essence of a Nichibei piece – it lies somewhere between the design, the color, and the handwork. Or it’s in the amalgam of all of these things which seems to manifest something more like culture than simple beauty. One of the signature miracles of their glazes is that they’re multi-layered: there’s green peeking out from behind the ash, blue speckled into the yellows, everything touched with an unexpected depth and spark. Something prismatic exists in these pots – and I’ve stared at them enough to know that they only become more beautiful with a fixed gaze. Like all great art, there’s a harmony between what has obviously been shaped by human vision and what springs forth in a manner so organic that it touches the divine. 

A trip to the Napa region may not be in the cards but each piece of pottery sitting on our shelves is transportive in its own right. There is something uniquely Californian in Cheryl’s shapes - they’re organic and serene - but Mikia’s handwork manifests centuries of Far-Eastern tradition: practiced, controlled, and sublime. One of the things I love most about their work is that it’s simultaneously intricate and soothing which, I suppose, is what art is always after: the ability to ignite the mind and comfort the soul at the same time. And I honestly don’t know anyone who does it better.