By Jen DePaolo

Pottery from various Gathered pop-up dinners. Photos courtesy of Gathered.

I’m on a mission to build my life around my place. As the locavore movement has led many of us to ask where our food comes from and how it was grown, my work over the past decade has invited me to extend that inquiry to our collected objects. Making things by hand is fundamental to being human, but across the world, artists struggle to earn a living in this era of object saturation and cheap goods. Community support for locally made objects supports the creation of high-quality objects and builds our cultural wealth. It can also help bring us closer to the food we eat and land we rely upon.

As we learn about how industrial production can be toxic for people and landscapes—from sweatshops and pollution to carcinogenic materials in clothing and furniture—we grow dismayed, but perhaps fail to consider that our consumer dollars are the votes that prop up these systems. We have more power than we think we do. We can practice sales resistance, being careful to avoid the purchase of objects that don’t actually improve our lives.

Farmer, writer, and activist Wendell Berry implores us in his recent “A Poem on Hope” when he writes, “Hope then, to belong to your place by your own knowledge of what it is that no other place is, and by your caring for it as you care for no other place.” We have an opportunity to support our place and its people through our purchasing power. Local growers and makers care about the quality of their land, the safety of their factories and workshops, and their customers’ satisfaction.

My experiences as an artist and cook have shaped the way I care for my place. I carefully craft my pottery in small batches for regular use with all types of food. I use a porcelain clay body that fires into a strong and chip resistant surface. I make my own “liner” materials: slips and glazes line the inside of my pots. These white-on-white materials are stain resistant, complement the colors and textures of food, and are free of trace metals and toxins that might leach into food. Each of my pots is a unique art object designed to encourage contemplation of our membership in our local ecosystem. My pots are layered with imagery that connects body and landscape. Intricate drawings on the interiors of my pots evoke organ and plant life synonymously. While I make my pottery, I envision the people who will gather around their use.

I am lucky that my place is Albuquerque, a city rich with growers, producers, and artists. Albuquerque’s collaborative spirit has allowed me to build socially engaged art projects that bring people together to explore and celebrate our local art, food, and culture. Between You and Me is a project that brings people face-to-face for conversation over a shared meal on handmade pottery. Guests address conversation prompts that encourage us to find commonalities and appreciate differences between us.

From top left, clockwise: Pottery by Jen DePaolo, Sarah Newberry, Lauren Karle, and Maggie Beyeler. Photos courtesy of the artists.

In 2016, I partnered with Stephanie Cameron of edible to run Gathered, a series of pop-up dinners that celebrates local food, art, and culture. Each year we assemble a team of diverse chefs and artists to host unique events at venues that have included Valle Encantado Farm, Sanitary Tortilla Factory, Heidi’s Jam Factory, Savory Spice Shop, and Osuna Nursery. I collaborate with a team of talented local potters, which has included H. P. Bloomer, Maggie Beyeler, Sarah Newberry, and Lauren Karle, to create enough pottery to serve six courses for fifty diners. Gathered has grown from the many cultures and ecosystems that shape New Mexico. Our work is paralleled by place-based collaborations happening across the country, such as chef Dan Barber’s collaboration with potter Julie Hadley for Blue Hill restaurant in New York.

Critical inquiry might prompt sacrifice and boycotting, but in a state as rich with creativity as ours, this practice will lead you home. Most of my collectors are people who know me in some capacity, and I am increasingly getting to know the farmers who grow my food and the cooks who prepare it. Gathered events manifest a commitment to living locally as a way to know and care for our place and its people. We invite you to join the celebrations. Let’s open a conversation about your role in your place, and the ways you’ve found to care for it. 

Join us for two Gathered events this spring! On April 6, we will host Gathered: Common Ground at Kei and Molly’s Textiles in the International District. In May, we welcome you to Gathered: Earth Mother Love at Rancho Gallina to explore community-driven sustainability practices over brunch in a pastoral setting. Ticket prices include a salad plate from one of our potters. Learn more and purchase tickets at gatherednm.com.

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Edible celebrates New Mexico's food culture, season by season. We believe that knowing where our food comes from is a powerful thing. With our high-quality, aesthetically pleasing and informative publication, we inspire readers to support and celebrate the growers, producers, chefs, beverage and food artisans, and other food professionals in our community.