HOMETOWN HEROES: MEET JOSEPHINE HEILPERN OF RECREATION CENTER

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We’re all about celebrating our Hometown Heroes (i.e., local creatives, designers and makers we love), which is why you’ll find them at in-store pop-ups across the country. Get to know a few neighborhood friends as we peek inside their workspaces and chat with them. First up is Josephine, the ceramist extraordinaire behind Brooklyn-based Recreation Center.

Let’s rewind a bit—how did Recreation Center begin?

I started Recreation Center many years ago, but it wasn’t only ceramics then. I was actually making bags! I always knew I wanted to make functional objects, items that served an everyday purpose.

One summer, straight out of school, I lived on a farm in upstate New York. I slept in a yurt in a field and woke up early each morning to help tend the soil. There was a small storage shed attached to the farmhouse that doubled as a ceramic studio. I had never done ceramics outside of high school, so I had no idea what I was doing. But every other day, after working in the dirt, I would play with clay. We grew the food that we ate, and we ate the food that we grew off of plates that we made. It was all so romantic. Once summer ended, I returned to the city and continued where I left off, living in Brooklyn and working at a print shop.

A couple of years later, I returned to ceramics and became obsessed with it. One day, I put everything I had made recently on a table. I looked at it and was like, “It all makes sense together!” I had created a line and was superproud of it. I took some photos, emailed stores and waited. Out of eight stores only one got back to me, Mociun in Brooklyn. They placed an order and the rest is history.

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So tell us about what inspires you and how you stay inspired.

I’m a very visual person. I have folders and folders of images on my computer. I keep clippings from magazines and old books to go through, which helps me the most. I also love to go to the New York Public Library picture collection. It’s a room full of image clippings. They’re in alphabetical order and you can find pictures for any word you want. It’s basically an analog Google image search.

I also love to walk. If I’m feeling stuck, I walk—sometimes to nowhere in particular. I follow the traffic lights. If it’s green I keep walking straight, if it’s red I turn. It helps clear my mind.

What essentials do you always have on hand when you’re creating? (Tools, materials, mood music, etc?)

Hand lotion! For real, if I don’t have that I can’t work. My hands get dry and hurt, the clay sucks all the life out of them. Podcasts, audiobooks and music are also super-necessary. I need audible distractions, music to sing along to or a story to be heard. I also have yoga blocks that I use for stretching. Sitting at the wheel all day does a lot of damage to my lower back. An on-demand massage therapist would probably be best. One day!

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Can you give us a rundown of what your day-to-day is like in the studio?

I’m not the best at waking up in the morning, so I don’t get to the studio until 11am. Once there, I turn on NPR, usually clean the mess that I left the night before and look at my calendar to see if I have any deadlines. I try to do one thing per day, such as throwing, trimming or glazing.

I work until I’m too tired or until I feel like I’ve done enough. It’s nice to make your own schedule but it can become problematic if you’re feeling unmotivated, which happens to everyone. I try to write everything down in my calendar, which I put in front of my wheel. It’s big and looks over me. Time scares me a bit, so it keeps me in check.

Any tips for someone looking to take an artistic talent to the next level and start a business?

I think this can sound cheesy but it’s so important to just be yourself. Make what you want to make and convince people to like it. If you’re confident in what you make, it shows. Market yourself and don’t be ashamed of it. Remember that your business is a reflection of who you are, so put out only what you’re proud of and what represents you in the most positive way.

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Thanks Josephine, you’re our hero. Come hang with creatives we love in your own neck of the woods—RSVP to our local events here. Plus, learn more about our Hometown Heroes program here.