The Craft of Design: Frances Palmer

The Craft of Design: Frances Palmer

Frances Palmer

Frances Palmer. Photo: Chris Callis

When Frances Palmer’s children were little, she’d leave cereal bowls on low shelves so they could help themselves to breakfast. These were Buffalo Pottery pieces, and they were, she recalls, “indestructible.”

Years later, in 2004, Palmer – by now a ceramic artist herself  – browsed the New York International Gift Fair and got inspired. “I thought, ‘Hmm, things I’m doing are being incorporated into mass production. I should think about this.’ ” She decided to approach the Niagara China factory, where all that kid-proof (and today highly collectible) Buffalo crockery was made. “I wrote them and said, ‘I’m a potter. I make dishes. Will you talk to me?’ ”

The result is the Frances Palmer Pearl Collection, a line of sturdy, elegant wares – more than 30 items in all, from plates to teapots to vases – individually cast and hand-pressed at Niagara’s historic 1901 building in upstate New York.

“I am so proud of the quality of this product,” says Palmer of the pieces, which have the handmade look of her studio ceramics. She’s also honored to be the only artist ever to share a stamp with Niagara, one of the few remaining ceramic factories in the United States, and employee-owned since 2004.

When she visits, she feels a connection. “They all have a vested interest in seeing this project succeed. So the guy who’s casting my creamers – you know, I am quite attached to all these people,” she says. “It’s a special place.” 

For Palmer, beautiful everyday objects are part of a gracious lifestyle. She loves to entertain at her home in Connecticut and is known locally for her exceptional flower gardens. “It sounds corny, but if you make work that’s true to yourself, that’s going to come through,” she says. “Of every piece I put out in the world, I can personally say, ‘I really love this.’ ”

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Joyce Lovelace is American Craft's contributing editor.