Functional and Whimsical Ceramics

Earth Is the Raw Material
Lane’s ceramics take many forms, sometimes blending the functional and the ornamental

On a recent, perfect summer day in a bright and beautiful house on high ground overlooking Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, Alison Lane showed a visitor some of her handmade creations, whose raw materials come from the earth. Bowls, dishes, mugs, and vases were displayed on a long dining table, and flowers were everywhere, adorning objects including a stately birdhouse and other pieces of found and repurposed wood. 

Ms. Lane, a native of Watkins Glen, N.Y., at the south end of Seneca Lake, “moved around a lot between Florida and New York, mostly,” she said, “but we always came to Montauk to vacation.” The house she shares with her husband, Timothy, an anesthesiologist, and their children was built in the 1990s. They became year-round residents four years ago, 

Ms. Lane was pleased to discover East End Clay Works, a cooperative of some 30 artisans with a workplace on Gingerbread Lane in East Hampton Village, where her mostly functional, sometimes whimsical, ceramics are made.

 “It’s great,” she said of East End Clay Works. “It’s such a supportive place to do clay. Everyone gets a key, you can work there 24/7, and we have people in and out all day. We have all levels of skill, everyone is willing to share their knowledge, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s a fun place to hang out. I go there almost every day.” 

Creativity is a family affair: Paintings by her husband and one of their sons are on the walls of the house. Another son is a sommelier in New York City, and Abby, the Lanes’ daughter, sings with the Montauk-based band Little Sister. 

“I always knew I loved clay,” Ms. Lane said. The love of clay was born in her childhood in Watkins Glen, where the earth alongside a stream offered the raw material for her first work. “My father was an art teacher, and sometimes he’d fire our little pieces,” she said. “More recently I dug clay out of that stream and fired it — it’s beautiful.” Ms. Lane took her first class in Upstate New York. “I made bowls for 10 years,” she said. 

Today her bowls are glazed with various colors, but sunshine is a theme, along with sunflowers — “Alison flowers,” as they are known at the cooperative. “I definitely prefer earthy,” she said, pointing to a large bowl glazed in yellow. “That was in the dark days of February, and I wanted something bright.”

A virtual field of small ceramic wildflowers on her dining table is the product of testing glazes, she said. Many were later festooned on a wooden birdhouse, a discovery made at the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s thrift shop in East Hampton. “It was plain, and I really liked it. I brought it home and plunked it on the table. All my little flowers were out because I was working, and I started gluing them on there. I like using up all those flowers I tested glaze on for years. I just use them like paint now, and now I’m intentionally making certain colors.” 

Ms. Lane noted that she had “branched out from bowls to more painterly kinds of things, and sculpture.” Her artistic eye has also extended to intricately carved tiles. 

She sells her creations at a few stores and sometimes sets up a table at the Montauk Manor. She and her colleagues at East End Clay Works also organize sales at the cooperative. “But mostly it’s word of mouth,” she said. 

From a stream in Watkins Glen to a hill overlooking Fort Pond Bay, Ms. Lane’s pursuit is an evolving work in progress. “Sometimes I go to craft fairs and everything is one color,” she said of other potters’ work, “and I’m so envious! I can’t decide on one that I like. My stuff, when it’s out, looks like a yard sale! There are so many applications with clay, and I want to try them all. I’m really still finding my way.” 

After making bowls for 10 years, Ms. Lane decided to also make vases, filling them with native vegetation from her property.
Alison Lane’s ceramic flowers are sometimes affixed to found objects like driftwood, creating decorative pieces. An old wooden birdhouse, found at the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s thrift shop, now explodes with color.
Today her bowls are glazed with various colors, but sunshine is a theme, along with sunflowers — “Alison flowers,” as they are known at the cooperative.