The story of an "artisanal meet-cute" that resulted in a first-of-its-kind product drop between a beloved NYC potter and a famed Mexican ceramics factory.
New York City-based ceramicist Helen Levi describes her first encounter with José Noé Suro—the owner of the famed ceramic factory Cerámica Suro in Guadalajara—as an "artisanal meet-cute:'' While on a stroll in Red Hook, Brooklyn during a visit in 2018, Suro stumbled upon a long line of people waiting for what was an open studio sale at Levi’s then-studio. Suro quietly scoped out Levi’s vast collection of handmade crockery (the sale itself was too hectic for proper introductions) and was impressed by Levi’s originality and distinct point of using a variety of techniques that includes but are not limited to wheel-thrown, hand building, and slip casting. Levi’s designs are unique and often evocative of the vibrant colorblocks found in nature—the wispy ocean waves, the marbled red swirls of the earth, the glow-up of sunset skies. After the sale, Suro emailed Levi to introduce himself—and the rest, as they say, is history.
A friendship soon formed and Suro invited Levi and her husband to visit Cerámica Suro, which happens to be a family business that Suro inherited from his father. His father’s initial vision for Cerámica Suro was to manufacture large-scale ceramic arts for luxury hotels (which it still does), but José Noé Suro had an idea to evolve the company into a more collaborative affair, where he could invite artists he admires to work on ceramic projects they normally wouldn’t have the production means to accomplish on their own. Under José Noé Suro’s ownership, the factory has worked with Adjaye Associates, Jorge Pardo, Kelly Wearstler, Jose Dávila, Elizabeth Kley, and Sarah Crowner for the Chinati Foundation and Museo Amparo, to name just a few. (The factory is currently developing 60 projects with artists.) "The factory is both state of the art and true to the past; it honors tradition and history while innovating at the same time," Levi says of her first visit in 2019. "It's a very special place."
After throwing around ideas on how they could work together, Levi landed on wall tiles. "I knew there was no way I could ever produce tile at scale in my own studio, so it was an exciting chance to explore that," she says. Levi sent her samples to Suro in 2019, then went back to Mexico in January 2020 to finalize details in person, but a certain pandemic delayed production. Over the course of that two and a half-year period, however, Suro and Levi were able to debut the tile collaboration of their dreams—the "Color Field" and "Corduroy" collections—which, despite being produced at the factory level, still maintains the DIY charm and aesthetic of the ceramics Levi makes in her now-home studio in Ridgewood, Queens.
The wall tiles, sold in bundles of 50, are available in several colorways and are ready to ship via Levi’s webshop now. "The word 'collaboration' is thrown around loosely and can mean such a wide range of things but in this experience, I found a partner whose one true goal was to help me realize my vision. José Noé really gave me the freedom to express my ideas," says Levi of their friendship that eventually blossomed into Cerámica Suro’s first-ever consumer-facing product drop.
See the full story on Dwell.com: Helen Levi and Cerámica Suro Have Made the Earthy Tile Collaboration of Your Dreams