For most kindergarteners, Play-Doh is a phase. For master ceramicist Isabel Halley, it was the start of her professional career. “As a child growing up in Tribeca, I was always drawing and playing with Sculpey. I made everything with that stuff—toys, presents, Christmas tree ornaments,” she says. “I also always had Gak or Silly Putty with me and loved Sticky Tack; my hands always had to be occupied.”
Though Isabel took sculpture classes in high school and earned her undergrad degree from the School of Visual Arts, it wasn’t until 2010 that she really got back to her roots: Ceramics night classes unearthed a renewed interest that had her in the studio every day—and eventually teaching kiddies the art form at Manhattan Youth, in the ‘hood where she grew up. That’s right: full circle.
Her aesthetic has matured plenty—she’s creating gold-rimmed pinch pots, impossibly thin and pearly plates, and killer porcelain candlesticks. But it’s a certain not-too-serious vibe that makes her pieces so standout. “I use grown-up materials, but formally the pieces are a bit wonky,” Isabel explains. “They sit up straight, and though are never wobbly in their foundation, my lines—like the lips of bowls—are never straight.” Basically, they’re imperfect in a way that feels perfect to her. —alisha prakash