Ceramicist Robert Hessler left New York City for the mountains of Kingston in the late 90s, searching for a more spacious and tranquil environment to work in. About 20 years later, the upstate region has become his home and a source of inspiration. The artist hand-throws all his pottery in his sun-filled studio and makes his own crystalline glazes that form unpredicted patterns and textures on his clay vessels.
With all that is going on and a dire need to stay put, Robert is unable to bring his ceramic projects home. Believing that time and space away from his practice enhances his creativity, he is taking this period to pause, cross things off his to-do list, and focus on being with loved ones. Robert shared with us what has been helping him stay calm and healthy during these trying few weeks.
Have you started practicing a new daily ritual that you didn’t have time for or that you didn’t feel the need for previously?
I haven't started practicing any new daily rituals per se, but one thing I have done that I have been putting off for years was to do an online drivers safety class, which cuts insurance premiums by ten percent for three years. In this time when income has lessened, it helps to save where you can.
Did you start reading or watching anything recently that brings you comfort?
I think there is comfort in getting lost in a book or movie or series regardless of topic. Our recent watching has included Ozark, Better Call Saul, and Unorthodox and I just started reading The Grapes of Wrath—another thing I've been meaning to do for years. While none of the topics of these series or book are particularly comforting, they are all great escapes.
Staying home has meant more time to be in the kitchen for us. Have you been cooking? Have you discovered any nourishing recipes that are your favorite right now?
I have been cooking more, but what I have really been focusing on in the kitchen is baking. My latest obsession is making bagels and trying slight variations with each batch to find what gives the best results. The recipe I have been using is one I found online at www.sophisticatedgourmet.com—New York Style Bagel recipe. These have been very fun and satisfying to make and of course eat, and not as difficult as one might expect.
A vase by Robert Hessler at Still House
Robert Hessler at his studio
“I guess the best thing any of us can do right now is to control the things we can, and do our best to let go of the things that are out of our hands. It's a seemingly simple objective, but when really put into practice, can make a world of difference for our mental peace of mind.”
Any playlists or artists you can share for focusing while working, unwinding in the evening, or releasing pent up energy any time of day?
Some favorite musical artists of mine that get heavy rotation when I am working are Johan Johansson, Max Richter, Lisa Gerrard, Sandy Denny, and Beach House, to name a few.
It can be hard to get exercise when we’re inside most of the day. Have you found fun ways to get physical activity in?
I started practicing Pilates again with online videos. Youtube is also a great source for finding a variety of workout/exercise routines to suit your level and needs. I've also been going on long walks and bicycle rides when the weather permits. That kind of exercise and movement is what I find best for getting me out of my head and thought cycles.
Have you begun any unexpected projects?
It's spring and we are home, which is a perfect time to purge and clear and get rid of things that you don't need in your life that are just taking up space. It's a great way to feel some kind of control of your life. I find the best approach is to tackle one small area per day to clean/organize/declutter. If you have a home office of any kind start with your desk! A clear desk helps with unfettered thinking. By doing a little something each day, you feel like you've accomplished something, and it doesn't feel overwhelming. It actually can be really enjoyable.
If you’re currently working from home, what helps you balance home life from work life? Do you have any boundaries between the two that keep you productive?
I don't have a home work space to create my pieces, which is fine. I always think that the best thing for creativity is to take breaks, so for now I'm just enjoying being home and having some down time with my partner.
How have you been staying connected to family, friends, and the outside world?
I've been texting a lot and talking on the phone with friends I haven't spoken to in quite a while. If anything, staying at home has allowed me to reconnect with friends who usually don't have much free time to talk on the phone either. There have been some video group chats as well, and this weekend some friends are organizing an online group trivia night.
Any tips for boosting our immune systems and staying healthy?
One of the daily things I started to do a while back on recommendation from a friend who works in the holistic field was to introduce Moringa powder into my diet. Moringa is a ground leafy plant primarily grown and found in India and has numerous health supporting benefits for overall health. I usually just put some in a smoothie of some sort. Most people do not consume enough greens in their diet, so this is a great way to help balance that. Also great are the numerous “greens powders” on the market, which I also take. It’s a great way to supplement your diet.
Do you have any general/overall advice for remaining calm during this period? What has felt restorative for you?
I guess the best thing any of us can do right now is to control the things we can, and do our best to let go of the things that are out of our hands. It's a seemingly simple objective, but when really put into practice, can make a world of difference for our mental peace of mind.
Robert Hessler's studio
A vase by Robert Hessler
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Images by Chelsea White
Interview by Ivy Schneider