Serving Love: The Story of Tagliaferro Ceramics


 Tagliaferro Ceramics is a business born out of resilience, compassion, care, and LOVE. And those are the qualities I strive to carry forth into my business every day. 


Long before I ever founded Tagliaferro (Pronounced Tal-ya-fair-oh), I had a dysfunctional but intensely creative upbringing which led to my living full time with my grandparents. They shaped me into the person I am today.

My grandfather was a man who was always fixing something. He spent a good deal of time at his work bench tinkering with tools and figuring out how to fix even minor things most of us would throw away.  He taught me how to work with what I had and how to be a creative thinker.

During art class, for the first time, I was naturally good at something.

In 9th grade I started taking a basic ceramics intro class at my high school.
Sometimes I think about what my life would look like had I not been offered that opportunity. Frankly, I had a hard time focusing in school.  I completed my school work, but it was challenging to sit still and pay attention. My eyes would start to glaze over and daydreams would set in, except during art class. For the first time I was naturally good at something.  Working with my hands engaged my mind and my body and I intuitively knew how to push the limits of the material. It just felt right! My teacher was really a sculptural thinker. He was always throwing hand-building projects at us. I never touched a potter’s wheel. I had NO interest in it really. I just wanted to find out what I could build!

The creative challenges given to me in that class later informed my work as a functional ceramicist.

I received my BFA in ceramics at the University of Arizona and I HAD to take 2 wheel-throwing classes. It was a requirement for my degree. But I always wanted to alter the pieces when I made them! I never wanted something to be a perfect circle. Thankfully, my professors were okay with me pushing the boundaries. But the one thing I was terrible at was sketching. I got in trouble for that. You had to keep a sketchbook. Confession: I would go back and sketch my pieces  afterwards for my grade. It sounds terrible, I know. But I actually wouldn’t make anything if I had to sketch them out first. It felt stifling to what felt like an intuitive process for me.

After I graduated college, I moved back to Florida and I started teaching art in small schools and studios. I did art shows, and participated in festivals where I sold my sculptural work.

Then I had my kids. When I had my children, I slowed my workload significantly. They were my work. I wanted to create a great home life for my family. But I always kept my hands in clay! I taught part-time for a nonprofit in Florida called the Center for Creative Education in Palm Beach. In the program, I would go into schools and work with teachers to design art projects that would compliment their lesson plans.  For example, we would create a hanging mobile to teach kids about kinetic energy. Teaching was a lot of fun for me. I loved being creative and providing those opportunities for others. I believe strongly that every school should have art education. There are so many people like me who thrive in a creative environment for the first time and we feel like we can truly express ourselves!

When the kids were older, I was considering what to do with my work again. I turned my attention to functional work. I started to think about how to incorporate art into everyday life. It was deeply important to me to create art that is not overly “precious”. Art that is sturdy and durable but also beautiful. 

I want my customers to feel like they can truly live with my pieces.

I feel that durability and functionality are equally as important as beauty when we choose the objects that will enhance the daily experience of living.  I’ve never been a person to put something on a pedestal and tip-toe around it. To me that creates stress. So, I want my customers to feel like they can truly live with my pieces.  We should be enjoying them, loving them. That is what life is about. 

I was a single mom, balancing everything, driving my kids around from place to place while dreaming of starting my own business…

I moved to Oregon in August 2013, but I’m from The Northeast United States. I grew up in Maryland and Florida. I like to combine my inspiration from East Coast living with the sensibility and relaxed attitude of the Pacific Northwest. Honestly I feel that I am- and my work is- a culmination of all the places I have been and the natural environments I have explored.

Growing up on the East Coast, I saw a few people really pushing artistic boundaries when I was studying. Rebecca Wood, for example, was hand-building serving pieces. It was unusual at that point to be making functional food dishes that were not wheel-thrown! 

During the day in Ashland, I worked full-time at the High School in the special education room .  I loved being a part of such a unique group of thinkers and working with children with special needs will always be close to my heart. But when I wasn’t in the classroom or devoting time to my kids, I spent time out in my garage making new things. I set up a small studio and started reorienting myself with ceramics.

I had one kiln I’d been toting around for years, for doing small projects and commissions. And I spent about a year and a half just experimenting! I would fix my kids dinner and go out to my garage to create things, a little bit at a time. I was a single mom so I was balancing everything, driving people around from place to place while dreaming of starting my own business! 


I decided that there was no better time to seize the moment and start my own business…


At that time I wanted to explore midfire stoneware dishes that were handbuilt, as handbuilt ceramics are my passion. This discovery process was so much fun. I started collecting shapes and rolling out clay slabs.  I started with a rolling pin, then refashioned an antique drying mangle into a makeshift slab roller until I could invest in a real one. I would begin by laying the clay slabs over forms trying to find what shapes were inspiring me. I wanted to make dinner plates in an approachable and organic shape and size. In the beginning, I just wanted to explore shapes. Why are we attracted to some shapes and not others? What shapes beg you to pick them up and interact with them? What feels right?

Dinnerware is comprised of several shapes. So during this process each piece was researched relentlessly. I wanted to explore what shape makes the best salad plate, or dessert plate, or serving platter. I asked myself so many questions during that time. It was about form and function. There are considerations that you take into account when you’re using something. It’s like the mental process that drives our selection of our favorite mug. It feels right. It works in our hand. It fits us! It becomes an extension of our self. Dinnerware is that way. The way you hold something to serve food on it, how things fit together on a table or on a shelf, all of those things were considered when I started the process that would turn into my business, Tagliaferro Ceramics.

When I got the shapes right, I started exploring food-safe nontoxic glazes that I could feel good about, from companies I could trust. It was important to me that everything I use is respectful of our natural environment. 

I started with neutral glazes and I started throwing in little adventurous pops of color. I started making prototypes with different shapes and glazes to see how these elements interacted with one another. I started finalizing those designs and it felt so right. It was time to launch something big. I took a great leap of faith and I decided that there was no better time to seize the moment and start my own business and begin sharing my dreams with other people.


I started with neutral glazes and I started throwing in little adventurous pops of color. I started making prototypes with different shapes and glazes to see how these elements interacted with one another. I started finalizing those designs and it felt so right. It was time to launch something big. I took a great leap of faith and I decided that there was no better time to seize the moment and start my own business and begin sharing my dreams with other people.

 

 

In August 2016, I had the summer off my full time job (because I worked in special education) and my partner Mark and I rented out the store in downtown Ashland, Oregon. We had huge visions for it! Practically everything in the shop before was turquoise-colored and there wasn’t a lot of open space to breathe, but we looked at the space and all we could see is what it could be. There was potential everywhere we looked!

 

We tore it up. We washed the walls because they smelled intensely like incense. We decided to maximize the natural light, we had to paint everything white on the interior of the store. We built ALL the shelving from local wood. We tore out a wall to open up the space and make it feel bigger! We tore out cabinetry. The inside looks totally different than when we initially procured the space. 

When it comes to the outside, we originally had it painted bright orange. But something about it wasn’t 100% right. When we chose the name Tagliaferro to pay homage to and reclaim my family name, I decided to go for a decidedly risky exterior paint job that reflected the leap of faith this business really has been...so we painted it black with gold trim. Did we feel a little crazy doing it? Yes. It was a hard choice. But we went for it! And I’m so glad we did. Sometimes risk is the absolute best and most energizing thing. If you are stuck, move. Don’t stay in one place. Don’t be rigid. Listen to your intuition and don’t be afraid of being wrong. Because sometimes you’ll be right! And when it feels right, every huge risk you had to take feels incredibly worth it. 



I live and work in the mountains of Talent, Oregon.


I live in the mountains of Talent, Oregon with my partner Mark and our kids and of course, our loyal shop dog Maxine. Outside the reach of internet access and far from town, my ceramics studio is nestled in the forest outside our home in a converted red barn with a cozy fireplace and no running water. Every morning, rain or shine, I gather buckets of water from the natural stream on our property to use in my studio. My partner Mark owns his own business designing custom wood flooring projects and uses a variety of Northwest hardwoods to create the beloved charcuterie and cutting boards sold in our Ashland boutique. Tagliaferro is truly a family endeavor and a labor of love!

 

 

 

 





 

 

Someone recently asked me where I want Tagliaferro to be in 5 years...

Someone recently asked me where I want Tagliaferro to be in 5 years. It’s 2019 now. To be honest, one of my biggest goals in my business is to have a smoothly-functioning studio with a solid amount of work coming in. And if this goal sounds simple to you, you don’t know how much work it is to start a full-scale operation making ceramics, trust me! Ha. But seriously, My dream is to have a very solid close-knit team of employees who LOVE their job. The kind of people who love customers, and love working together in collaboration to create a strong, beautiful, sustainable product to share with the world.  

I would also love to transition into having really consistent solid help with production, and being able to focus more deeply on the design aspect of the business. That is where my heart is. Listening to the voices of our customers and creating FOR them. Spending my hours in the studio working diligently to create the pieces that you want to serve others with. That is my vision and my passion.


I also mentioned that I worked a lot in the field of education and I grew up with my grandparents due to a tumultuous home life. These experiences also largely inform my vision of where my business will be in 5 years.

I want to work with the community to create more connection and more empathy. I am passionate about equality and inclusion. I care deeply for the queer community and I envison a world where we are free to be ourselves, surrounded by others who really see us... people who look us in the eye and accept us unconditionally. I am always exploring how my business plays a role in acceptance and I feel strongly about funding programs that encourage inclusion and help people who have not experienced the acceptance we deserve.

I created the Serve Love campaign for Tagliaferro and we donate 10% of the sales of our large serving ware  to local mental health programs here in Southern Oregon. Mental Health issues and addiction have plagued my family and along with ending that cycle, I created Serve Love because when we believe something is important, we can always find a way to get involved in those positive changes. We are all affected in some way by mental health and addiction issues. 


I want to keep supplying things that make people feel good at the end of the day. 

I want my customers to feel like they are part of a family who cares about what they think! If you have an idea, just shoot me an email! I am not a private artist who wants to hide in my studio away from the contributions of other people! I thrive on a sense of community and I love suggestions. They make it easier to serve people.

In the larger scheme of things, I value enjoyment, slowing down, integrity, and family. That’s what handmade things are about. Stopping and taking it in. Appreciating the large window you have that looks out onto nature. Looking around and loving your life.

I believe each meal is an opportunity to embrace gratitude and serve LOVE. Each piece you have in your home has been held and considered by me as a functional piece of art you use every day. And I care deeply for everything you use. I love beautiful things, but I am most enamored by objects that have been created for everyday use by families, just like mine. 


Keep Serving Love-

Dawn Klinger