Today’s Maker Stories with Rachel Howe of Small Spells is extra special. I’d ordered some mugs and planters from her for the shop and shortly thereafter learned that her Brooklyn apartment was five minutes away from mine. When the pieces were ready, I rounded up my talented photographer friend Chris, and we headed over to pick them up and find out what Rachel was all about. Turns out she’s pretty amazing. In addition to making ceramics that are simultaneously minimal and quirky, Rachel was super down-to-earth, had a beautifully decorated apartment and a gemstone and mineral collection that I couldn’t stop staring at as well as interesting little bursts of character all over the place. So I chatted with Rachel and chased around her cats while Chris took some photos. Meeting an artist and seeing where she lives and what she’s all about definitely gives you an enhanced perspective on her work. I hope you get a glimpse of that from her interview. There are a few of her pieces in my shop here, and she also sells her work in her Etsy shop. Enjoy! — Stacy
All photos of Rachel’s apartment taken by Chris Fantauzzi
I’d been making art that used a lot of text, so I would come up with little esoteric phrases to use. Small Spells was one, and when I started thinking about making more functional objects, I thought it would be a great brand name for me, no matter what I made. Making ceramics is kind of magical, so it works well.
Where are you from?
I grew up in New Jersey, but I’ve been in New York City for 15 years, most of it in Williamsburg. My grandmother grew up on Bedford Ave. and South 2nd St., so maybe it’s in my blood.
The full interview continues after the jump . . .
What’s your go-to drink or snack while working?
Trilogy flavor Kombucha.
What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been?
Mexico City. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I really want to go back. Parts of it are like LA & Paris mashed together, two other favorite places.
Two black cats, sisters named Pony Boy and Johnny. They’re totally witchy and sweet, and I have their names tattooed on me. They were my first pets, and I’m obviously obsessed with them.
Do you collect anything?
I’ve definitely moved into a phase where I want to get rid of things and be really minimal, but I’ve accumulated a pretty large crystal collection, which I use when doing Reiki. Crystals are addictive to buy because they are beautiful and strange but also have amazing metaphysical properties.
I think if I were not such a visual person, I would be a writer. If I ever go blind, I’ll start writing.
What’s your favorite book?
I could just re-read the same Joan Didion essays from the ’60s for the rest of my life.
Do you have a separate “day job”? If so, what is it?
I’m the studio manager for the artist Laurie Simmons. I’m also a Reiki practitioner, as my other “nights and weekends” job.
I would love to speak Arabic. I think it sounds so beautiful.
When you travel, what are three essential things you pack?
A microfiber towel that dries your hair really quickly, the latest copy of the New Yorker and a list of thrift stores and vegan restaurants in my destination.
What’s your most prized possession?
I don’t know about a specific possession, but I’m pretty proud of my collection of mid-century furniture, all of it gotten cheaply from Craigslist or free from relatives. I decided that this was what I wanted for my apartment, and over time I’ve gotten most of what I want.