In 1991, Michael Wainwright had a fresh master’s degree in clay sculpture from NYU and made a living selling his handmade plates, bowls, mugs and vases at flea markets around New York. John Loring, the design guru of Tiffany & Co., caught wind of Wainwright’s technique of mixing uneven edges and finger prints in clay with touches of precious metals—and the rest is history. Today, the artist’s dishes, flatware, glasses and gift items are coveted for their organic forms and elegant ease. Here, Wainwright—who now lives in the Berkshires of Massachusetts—shares thoughts on everything from favorite artists and inspirations to hand sanitizer and a killer baba ghanoush recipe.
Favorite way to set a table: The beauty of designing different sets of dinnerware is that I can mix things up on a whim. When we have people over again, it will probably be on my new Panthera Indigo dinnerware collection.
Personal entertaining style: We host raku barbecues. While dinner is cooking on the grill, I have guests decorate pieces. I fire the kiln outside, and, after dinner, we raku. The kiln goes to 2,000 degrees in about 45 minutes. When it’s glowing hot, you grab the pieces with tongs and place them in a trash can with newspaper and a lid. Instead of fire, you get smoke, and the piece is cool enough to handle within another 20 minutes. Our guests can have a finished piece in a little more than an hour.
Favorite artists: In clay, it’s Stephen De Staebler, Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson. In other mediums, Brancusi, Giacometti, Anselm Kiefer plus many more.
Best vacation ever: Our trips to Wellfleet and Truro on Cape Cod are always good as far as family is concerned. The sand dunes at Truro inspired one of my collections. My trips to Paris and Ile de Re in France were also pretty spectacular. I am due for another trip to Italy, sometime after the world opens up again.
Inspirational places: The view of the mountains outside my store. Tuscany. The Appalachian Trail, which runs pretty close to us. And, of course, trips to MoMA, The Whitney, MASS MoCA and The Clark.
Nightstand reading: I’m a big fan of The New Yorker. I also have Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea, but I haven’t started it yet.
Ride: I drive a 2016 Toyota Rav4 hybrid.
Fashion style: T-shirt and jeans.
Favorite dish: I make a killer baba ghanoush with grilled, almost burnt eggplant. (See recipe.)
Cocktail: A good gin and tonic. I like to support local, so it’s often gin from Berkshire Mountain Distillers. During the quarantine, they switched to making hand sanitizer, which we also bought. It smelled like gin and tonic.
Flowers in a vase: We currently have lilacs in one of my vases at home. Something homegrown is always best.
Way to decompress: When I am making something—throwing something on the wheel—I get into the zone. Everything else melts away.
I knew I made it when: I realized that I make things for a living and I could pay my bills. I am blessed.