By Dustin Brown
Ellen Evans once had ambitions of being an archaeologist.
The lifelong New Yorker used to harbor romantic visions of scraping around the desert in khakis and a hat, unearthing the shattered remnants of buried golden ages.
But the study of archaeology proved drier than she had imagined, and Evans eventually revised her career goals to better suit her creative streak, concluding that her passion for classical Greek and Minoan artwork would best be served in another pursuit.
After all, why simply study artifacts when she could create them herself?
Evans is an artist whose pottery studio in Astoria produces an original line of ceramics that merge a classical sense of form with modern notions of utility.
She calls her work “Terrafirma,” literally meaning “solid earth,” which is also the name of the company she founded more than two decades ago.
“It has that ancient-modern feel to it, which is what we’re about,” Evans said while taking a break from the clay one recent afternoon.
Her husband Richard, who is also the president of Terrafirma Ceramics, describes the style as “rustic but sophisticated.”
Whatever you call it, Evans’ vision of pottery design is a study in contrasts.
“The imagery really is things that are very American — the corn and the vegetables,” she said. “The style of it is somewhat European.”
Even the very faces of the pottery alternate between glazed, luminous surfaces and the more textured look of rugged, unfinished ceramic.
The Terrafirma studio sits on the third floor of a beige loft building on 35th Street just north of 36th Avenue, where its windows offer a clear view over the trees growing on the other side of the road in Arrow Park.
Although hardly bucolic, the space is a far cry from the 11th-story loft in Chelsea the company occupied for 18 years. Terrafirma Ceramics was forced out of its Manhattan home by the skyrocketing rents of the dot.com boom, relocating to Astoria in December of 2000.
“If I had known it was here, I would have come 10 years ago,” said Richard Evans, who lives with Ellen and their daughter in Manhattan. “This is like being in the country almost in a certain way. It’s very peaceful.”
Evans designs all of the ceramics herself and assumes a very hands-on role in their production.
But instead of employing artists — people who may have conflicting ideas of what the pieces should look like — Evans has chosen eight assistants who are simply good with their hands.
“Since it was my particular vision, I prefer to train people to do it my way,” she said.
Evans hired one woman because she came to her interview with an impressively long braid twisting down her back, which she had tied herself.
“I knew she had very good skills,” Evans said, based on her observation of the braid. “She’s still here.”
All of the products created by Terrafirma can go into the oven or the dishwasher, enduring pretty much any conditions a modern kitchen can throw at them.
“We make things that we think are beautiful, but they’re also functional in terms of lifestyle,” Evans said.
The designs, meanwhile, are cast directly from nature. Real leaves and vegetables are used to make molds, over which clay is then rolled to replicate the natural figure.
Her bowls, plates and other tableware have also graced the covers of numerous magazines , and they have long been fixtures at such high-end stores as Saks and Nieman Marcus.
“A lot of chefs like to use the product because it’s a very nice presentation for their food,” Evans said.
Although the company sells its wares almost exclusively on a wholesale basis, shipping items to retailers around the country, the studio is opening its doors in early April for anyone to buy their merchandise at reduced rates.
The sample sale will be held in the studio on the third floor of 35-35 35th St. in Astoria. It will be open on Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6, between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. On Sunday, April 7, the doors will stay open from noon until 4 p.m.
For more information, call 937-7515.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.