J Schatz Handmade
Made by Hand, with Wonder, in Olneyville
Although Providence is known locally as an enclave of artists and creative types, it can sometimes feel like a well-kept secret to those coming from afar. But it only took Jim Schatz and his partner, Peter Souza, one visit to determine that this city offered exactly the kind of community they were craving.
“At the time we were living in Los Angeles,” said Jim, “and we were starved for community. As we began our search for a new home and made our way around New England, we had no idea that we’d find exactly what we were searching for in Providence.”
They were enamored with the rich community of chefs, artists and other creative designers at work transforming the West Side. As Peter jokes, the area felt like SoHo in the ’80s. In other words, it was exactly what they had been seeking.
A historic mill building in Olneyville with great bones and soaring windows instantly caught their eyes as the perfect work/live space. By early 2016, Peter and Jim had renovated the space to include a large studio, complete with kilns and shelves housing their colorful array of finished products, as well as a one-bedroom open-floor-plan living space.
Every item of J Schatz ceramic ware is molded, pierced, carved, drilled, glazed, fired and shipped from their studio space. Every step of the process is handmade and all materials are produced in the United States, including the metal and wood components used on various lighting pieces and outdoor objects.
As Jim and Peter so eloquently sum up their mission, “The world of J Schatz is driven by love, a sense of wonder and the desire to create beautiful products out of clay.” This is nowhere more apparent than in their whimsical, best-selling Egg Bird Feeder, a beautifully designed feeder in the shape of an egg, which is the product that launched the J Schatz journey.
Jim, a nature enthusiast, discovered a passion for watching the birds in his yard while he was living in Greene, NY. Frustrated by the ugly and ineffective bird feeders he kept finding, he decided to put his fine art and sculpture background to use and to try his hand at designing a product that fit his clean, modern aesthetic and, most importantly, was functionally designed. When the product launched at market, it was met with rave reviews, and generous press coverage. Next came a similarly styled Egg Bird House, and it has been nonstop ever since.
At this point in the J Schatz journey, more than 30,000 products have been shipped to more than 14 countries. They’ve now expanded to include tableware, lighting, coffee makers, outdoor objects, dog bowls, bird baths and more.
Their first foray into dinnerware was a collaboration with executive chef Tony Esnault for the opening of his restaurant, Spring, in Los Angeles. “Our mission was to create a canvas for him,” Jim says. And indeed they did, making more than 1,000 dinnerware pieces in modern shapes and subtle tones. Since that collaboration, Peter and Jim have continued to expand their dinnerware line, which now includes a wide array of glaze choices, and products ranging from water pitchers to ovenware. Local collaborations have included pendant lights for Bayberry Beer Hall, as well as vases for Flowers by Semia.
To showcase the tableware for Edible Rhody, we paired J Schatz with Champe Speidel, chef/co-owner of Persimmon in Providence, whose skill in food-based design matched perfectly with the hand-crafted vessels. It began with a visit to the Olneyville studio, where Champe had the opportunity to look over the entire collection and select the pieces he wanted to work with.
“I’m very reactive as a cook,” Champe says. “When someone creates a piece of art, whether it’s a plate, glass or piece of flatware, I become inspired by their vision.”
Inspired by the colors, tones and shapes of each plate and bowl, as well as the local seasonal ingredients with which he cooks, Champe designed recipes, simple enough to highlight the vessels while interesting enough to maintain his personal style.
The roasted radishes popped off a vibrant, abstract watercolor plate; the black spaghetti nestled dramatically in a dark gray bowl.
Before we were done, Jim, Peter and Champe were already busy collaborating on designs for the restaurant, including castings of quahog and oyster shells to be turned out in clay or porcelain, glazed and fired to a luminous pearl white.
Peter describes how handmade items can inspire the people who use them, similar to dining at an establishment that focuses on creating an intentional and cohesive experience. “When people buy something beautiful that is made by hand, it is an intimate experience. We’re creating a moment of beauty for them.”
For more information on J Schatz products call 866.344.5267 or visit JSchatz.com.
Visit their open studio: 46 Dike St., Providence Tu–F; 10 am–6 pm (plus the holiday sale on December 2)