A lump of clay makes happy

Anouk Kramer is best known for her rustic pottery with its subtle golden lining but also for her richly decorated tulip vases, unmistakably of Dutch provenance. Her work is sold in a number of exclusive stores in the Netherlands including the Bijenkorf. ‘I find it so funny that all I need to make people happy is a lump of clay and my old shed!’ (Read the interview below)

Photography Liselore Chevalier Words Stephanie Pander Styling Valerie van der Werff

Spijkerboor, Noord-Holland. Here, in an old farmhouse at the end of the world, ceramist Anouk Kramer lives with her family: her husband, three daughters and all her animals. ‘The house lives. It’s a jumble of furniture and stuff and it’s not finished yet, but everyone that visits can feel its warmth. Sometimes I’m surprised by how much they love it while I’m thinking, “But don’t you see all the walls that still have to be painted?”

I find her in her studio, effectively an old shed behind the farmhouse. Her work lines the shelves along the walls, some of it still drying, other pieces complete. There’s no such thing as climate control in here — dry weather makes a different plate than humid weather. ‘I made designs for a new shed yesterday. Something a little more spacious would be great.’ She sweeps a table clean, throws a log on the fire and asks her eldest daughter to make us some tea. Her hands and apron are covered in clay and she looks straight at me with her clear eyes. She has a sort of purity common to Scandinavian women.

‘I’m not someone who needs to be constantly fed by the city’s impulses’

Where does she find her inspiration? ‘The outdoors just as much as the city. The idea that I can go to town to visit a museum and then return to these fields. I’m not someone who needs to be constantly fed by the city’s impulses.’
Being out here means taking care of the animals, boating on the ditches that run between the meadows and hunting with her family. ‘I find inspiration in hunting. I like how complete the story is: you clean and eat the animal you shoot. It’s as simple as it gets.’ The animals and hunting scenes she so loves are reflected in her work. ‘I’ve held all these animals in my hands so for me it’s just as logical to paint or sculpt them into my work, as it would be to eat them.’
Over the last year the most one sees of Anouk’s work is in magazines. Especially the rustic tea cups, bowls and plates with a golden rim. All black clay, white glaze and perfect in their imperfection. No plate is like the other. ‘I like to give beauty to everyday objects. To make something as mundane as drinking tea into a special moment. My daughters never drank tea until I served it to them in my own mugs.’

‘There’s a lot of love in my work. In every cup and plate’

Why does she think her work touches people? ‘There’s a lot of love in my work. In every cup and plate. I hope people feel that, that they feel me’. Being in the moment, seeing beauty in the details plus a healthy dose of perspective and humour: it all seems so easy for her. ‘My clients are also a source of inspiration when they come to me with their ideas. For instance there was a woman who wanted me to make her a collection of big tea mugs — something I don’t really like because I prefer things to be elegant. But I worked on it and found that if I made the handles really small, you still had to hold this big cup in a dainty way. Sometimes people come to me and say, “I can’t get my fingers through the handle.” Well, that’s exactly the point.’

‘This client wanted something beautiful but practical. And guess what? Turns out many other people want the same’

Then there’s the client who came to her for a simple, plain tulip vase. ‘I usually make ornamental masterpieces full of details like golden crowns and coats of arms. But this client wanted something she could use everyday. Something as simple as possible without any embellishment. Beautiful but practical. I made it for her and guess what? Turns out many other people want the same. I sell many of these vases now.’
Anouk’s work is sold in a selected group of stores in the Netherlands, including Menno Kroon in Amsterdam. But she also has more commercial line, Anouk for &K in the shops of &Klevering based on the idea that her work should be accessible for everyone. Anouk: ‘It wasn’t so easy though, giving up control. I work with one other ceramicist and everything — except the line for &Klevering — comes from this atelier.’ ‘I’m also not selling abroad. I’m not sure if I want to. I think maybe it’s better that my pieces remain a purely Dutch product: crafted here and only available here. Plus, more stores would require me to have more people working here in the studio, which would also affect our family life. I don’t want that. Everything, my life and work are so closely linked, so well balanced, that I want to keep it that way. Being with each other as a family was a conscious choice and I would recommend to anyone.’
Each of her daughters burst in on us at different times that afternoon. For a cup of tea, a chocolate or just to sit and listen. Anouk describes all three lovingly, ‘Pipi (14) is tough and powerful. Riva (13) is charming and helpful. She does the week’s groceries for the family by herself. And Lieve (11) is cautious and sweet, loves to hug. All three were born in this house. A place that we built with our own hands. You could chase a cow through here and nothing would break. And if it did, then we wouldn’t make a fuss about it. We’ve made everything ourselves so we can make it again. I’m not really attached to material goods’.

Photography Liselore Chevalier
Styling Valerie van der Werff
Words Stephanie Pander

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