How a simple mistake became the foundation of this local ceramicist’s career
“It all began as a filing error,” chuckles Croton Falls ceramicist Bracken Feldman about the one small mistake that became the foundation for her future. As Feldman sits in her newly furnished ceramic studio blissfully covered head to toe in clay, it is hard to imagine this artist doing anything else.
During her freshman year at Fox Lane High School, she expected to be registered for studio art class but was mistakenly entered into the ceramics course instead. Feldman decided to give it a try and remained in the class for the year. The course focused on handbuilding with clay and she wasn’t particularly impressed with the material, both subject and clay. “I didn’t love getting dirty,” she recalls. She decided, however, to stick it out and re-enrolled for another semester of ceramics. This time, the strength and movement required for wheel throwing felt instantly more exciting. The minute she sat down at the potter's wheel she knew this was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “At that moment, everything just clicked. Once I started succeeding, I couldn’t get enough of it,” says Feldman.
Feldman spent the rest of her time in high school finding any space in her day– before school, after school, during lunch, even when she was supposed to be in other classes– to get to the ceramics studio to throw pottery. Selected to be part of the Young Artist’s Exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art, Feldman proudly displayed three teapots. “Being able to show my work to friends and family really gave me a sense of pride for what I had been able to accomplish,” says Feldman. That passion and determination, along with one simple mistake, set the stage for Feldman’s development into the master craftsman she is today.
Her current studio is full of functional wares like mugs, dishes, platters, pitchers, and tea pots but also eclectic structural pieces as well. “I love a good feat of engineering,” she says. Feldman enjoys seeing things in parts, taking things apart and putting them back together in a whole new way. To her, clay is a canvas full of both challenge and possibility. Lately, she has been working through the design of a large hollowed arch to function as a vase. Feldman also collaborated recently with Ikebana Sogetsu New York at the Blue Door Gallery in Manhattan to create Ikebana vases as part of their art of Japanese flower design.
Her favorite project this year was creating nesting bowls as a wedding gift for the daughter of her former high school teacher. Forming multiple and equally symmetrical handcrafted bowls of varying stacked sizes requires precision and consistency. Feldman was not only pleased with the outcome of the nesting bowls, but honored to have created something that will be a part of a special moment for this family. “That means everything to me as an artist,” says Feldman.
Despite her desire to always be at the potter’s wheel, upon graduating from Alfred University in Alfred, NY with a degree in ceramics and a minor in art history, Feldman accepted a job as a temporary leave replacement for an art teacher. That decision propelled her next 15 years in teaching K-12 art classes. Ceramic production took on a new role as she fostered a new generation of art students. Following the guidance given to her by mentor Professor Randy Williams at Manhattanville College, Feldman strived to recreate the environment she was given to develop as an emerging artist. “I always wanted my students to challenge themselves, but I also wanted to give them the space to explore and the freedom to create.”
Williams, who describes Feldman as “one of the most gifted ceramicists I’ve come across at such a young age,” became not only a guide for Feldman’s professional career but helped shape who she is today. The pair met only 48 hours after the unexpected loss of Feldman’s father, Dave Feldman, former deputy mayor of Mount Kisco. “He became a father figure to me during the darkest moment of my life,” says Feldman. Williams reached out often and encouraged her to be herself, but also to take chances.
A pivotal chance was taken in 2019 when Feldman decided to take the leap back full time into the ceramics world by accepting a job as the Studio Manager and instructor at the newly opened Railyard Arts Studio in Croton Falls. Shortly after their opening however, the pandemic hit, challenging both the emerging studio and population of local artists. Feldman began selling her wares at Railyard’s first outdoor craft fair that was aimed at supporting artists during Covid. “That pop up fair was the first one I have ever done,” she admits. Surprisingly, she had never previously imagined selling her work.
In a short time, Feldman’s ceramics gained popularity due to her masterful work and whimsical artistry. She attended more craft fairs in the local area and collaborated with fellow artists and businesses to expand her portfolio. Orders began piling in, including complete dinnerware sets for restaurants like Quatiere in Stamford, CT and Bailey's Backyard in Ridgefield,CT. She developed relationships with local businesses and organizations to sell pieces at Harvest Moon, Bedford Village Fame Shop, Old New House in Katonah and the Aldrich Museum.
Feldman’s newfound success gave her the confidence to finally open her own production studio to focus full time on those relationships. Her kilns are constantly firing with custom and online orders as well as pieces to sell at craft fairs. Feldman attended 22 craft fairs in 2022. She believes one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job is when she gets to speak with people and answer their questions. It helps her connect to the process in a different way and think about her work from a new perspective. At one craft fair last year, Feldman met with local glass blower Moshe Bursuker, where they began to talk about a collaboration to create platters and serving ware that are covered by blown glass domes.
This month, Feldman will be featured at the Chroma Fine Art Gallery in Katonah along with artists Robin Arzt and Melissa Benedek. The exhibit, titled “Le Prin Temps,” will showcase 82 pieces that demonstrate the extensive range and quality of Feldman’s ability but also the playfulness she brings to the art through her structural formations and glazing techniques. The show opens March 14 and runs through April 16 with an opening reception on March 25 from 4:00-7:00p.m.
For more information:
Follow Bracken Feldman on Instagram at @brackenfernhandmadeceramics
Visit Bracken Fern Studios to purchase pieces and inquire about commission work.