Found in Translation: Helen Prior Reimagines Ceramics and Textile Design | Field + Supply @ Chronogram | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Block printing, a method of creating textile patterns that originated over 4,000 years ago, is a careful process that involves hand-carving a design into a block of wood, applying dye to the relief, then stamping it onto fabric over and over to create a repeating effect. Understandably, the process has long since been superseded by more expeditious methods like screen and digital printing, but in the Kingston studio of ceramicist and textile designer Helen Prior, a native of Warwickshire, England, who has called the Hudson Valley home for almost 15 years, the process lives on in refreshingly modern form.

It all starts with a simple slab of clay, the building block for all the creations in Prior’s “Clay to Cloth” line of ceramics, fabrics, and wallpapers, which she started in 2018.

The slab, which Prior calls a “manuscript,” is where she first explores her designs. She decorates the still-soft clay with freehand carvings and stamps, combining influences from the natural world and stylized motifs pulled from an expansive archive of historic textiles dating back to the 1880s that she amassed in her career in the fashion industry developing prints for the likes of Anna Sui, Rebecca Taylor, Trina Turk, and Diane von Furstenberg.

But after over two decades of working with other designers, Prior craved a creative outlet where her own vision could take the lead. “With fashion companies you really are working in the style of the designer, but it came to a point where it was really hard to have my own voice,” she explains. After she and her family moved full-time to New Paltz, she began spending more time at Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale exploring her passion for ceramics, an artform she had studied since she was in high school.

“It was really such a great springboard for me to explore ceramics in my spare time,” she says. “Then I started decorating my ceramic pieces and doing this process of textile on ceramics and I thought, well, this looks interesting and new, and it seemed to me like such a lovely way to work.”

In 2019, she opened her eponymous studio in the Shirt Factory in Midtown Kingston, whose textile manufacturing history is an appropriate fit for her work. The next year, she debuted her first collection of ceramics, fabrics, and wallpapers titled “Cross Pollination,” a reference to the way she seamlessly translates her manuscript designs between mediums.

For her ceramics, the manuscripts become the master prints from which she takes the decorations for her hand-built and wheel-thrown bowls, vases, dishes, and trays. To make her textiles and wallpapers, she photographs the manuscripts, then further refines the designs in Photoshop, creating a repeating pattern that can then be digitally printed onto Belgian linen by the company outside of Philadelphia that makes her pillows or turned into wallpaper by another in Detroit.

In contrast to the stark minimalism that has dominated much of the interior design world for over a decade, Prior’s work is a celebration of the history of decorative art, distilled into a version that works well for many different contemporary aesthetics. “Decorative has always been there throughout history,” she says. “I believe it to be something that always comes and goes, but I believe that people respond to it and it makes things stand out more and appeal to people on an emotional level.”

Shop Helen Prior's work as part of Chronogram's partnership with Field + Supply here. Want to see her work in person? Helen will be at Field +Supply’s Spring MRKT, May 27-29 at Hutton Brickyards in Kingston. For more information visit Fieldandsupply.com.

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