Spotlight: Modern clayworks


Chris Pence of Haand, photograph by Sarah Schu

by Jessie Ammons

“We want the work to evoke a sense of peace. You may have to trek to get to us, but being here allows us to stay in a peaceful mindset,” says Chris Pence, co-founder and CEO of Haand, maker of handcrafted ceramics.

You may recognize his company’s simple silhouettes from the tables at Ashley Christensen’s downtown restaurant Death & Taxes, or from Provenance in the SkyHouse building. Normally, Haand sells its wares – which Pence describes as “functional farmhouse futuristic” – to the public through its website, but on Dec. 10 and 11, the Saxapahaw-based pottery studio will open its doors for a holiday open house to sell plates, bowls, and mugs in-person. “It’s a rare opportunity to see inside of our studio. We don’t have First Fridays or anything out here.”

In a state rooted in a pottery tradition, Haand stands out for its slipcast method, which relies on a mold, not a wheel. It results in clean lines and smooth finishes, which Haand glazes in whites, marbled finishes, and bright colors. “It’s not the round and brown stuff you see at Seagrove,” Pence says. It’s that contrast to tradition, in part, that the Florida native says motivated him to launch the company in 2012 with high school friend Mark Warren. Warren had studied slipcasting at Penland School of Crafts in western North Carolina, and Pence had recently quit his job as a corporate accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Florida in search of a more creative pursuit. They decided to focus on ceramics full-time (“I’d spent time in North Carolina visiting Mark and been wanting to find a way to stay there for good,” Pence says of remaining in the state). “We took a vow of poverty for the first two years,” Pence says, and lived in a low-frills farmhouse outside of Durham.

Through word of mouth, Haand quickly garnered a fan base that trickled up to brands like the Steven Alan home store in New York City and earned mentions in Garden & Gun and Dwell magazines. “We realized that what we were doing was working, and that it was valid and it was true and we just needed to keep at it.”

Four years later, Haand has expanded to a staff of 12 in a warehouse in Saxapahaw, about an hour west of Raleigh. Despite national recognition, the crew remains committed to its local North Carolina community, which includes our capital city. Connecting with a local leader such as Christensen has been key: “She’s very forward-thinking and innovative and allergic to the norm, which is what’s made her so successful. It was a good fit and good timing.” It has also been a way to reach more people than just direct-to-consumer sales.

“Think about how many plates are in restaurants. Then, with the advent of social media, think about how many people take pictures of their food. The plate is elevated. People want to share an image – the plate – as part of their story.” Pence says he’s looking forward to inviting customers to tour the studio on Dec. 10; and on Dec. 11, he’s invited Rise and Ramble textiles, Haw River Ales, and nearby Left Bank Butchery to bring their wares to a pop-up shop, as well.

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