When Alysia Brazin brought her son to Hebrew School for the first time in 1993, she didn’t know that what she’d find there was the inspiration to nurture her artistic side for years to come. As her son’s knowledge of Judaism began to blossom, Alysia realized that their home was in need of some basic Judaica. Where was the seder plate? The challah tray? The matzah plate, the Shabbat serving dishes, the Miriam’s cups? Alysia decided to set out filling that void, and began experimenting with clay. Porcelain, to be specific.
Once she’d created a small line of signature work, she brought her samples to Kolbo, and was thrilled to learn that we would be happy to try her work in our gallery. In the decades since, her style has proved to be a much beloved success. Working with Billy Mencow and with Dana Sobel, our art buyer, Alysia experimented with different forms, colors, and glazes, learning what styles the Jewish community would fall in love with.
Alysia’s porcelain-making is a multi-step process. The majority of her work is thrown, meaning formed on a rotating potter’s wheel. Some of her less symmetrical work –– her challah plates, matzah plates, and oval serving trays, as well some of her freer form and more playful designs (including a school of swimming porcelain fish) –– are slabbed, meaning hand-built out of sheets and coils. The hardest part of creating porcelain Judaica, says Alysia, is the Hebrew lettering. Each single letter must be carefully exacto-cut through a stencil, then placed in perfect position on the piece itself. Clay letters are fickle –– they slide, break, and even flip upside down sometimes!
After forming the piece out of clay, the bottom surface is trimmed –– rounded and smoothed out –– and the clay is let to dry. The first firing of a piece is called bisquing, which solidifies the clay from a breakable form into a delicate yet sturdy glasslike structure. Then comes the coloring and the glazing. Alysia creates her own color and glaze mixtures using simple raw materials –– cobalt, copper carbonate, and iron for colors; dolomite, flint, and silica for glazes –– and paints her pieces with vibrant leaf patterns in gentle sea greens and powder blues –– as well as many other designs and color. Colors are painted with brushes, while glazes are poured, or the pieces dipped into the glaze. After the second firing in the kiln, the piece is ready for the table.
When she’s not working in porcelain, Alysia is an optician. She splits her time fifty-fifty between her two callings. To help keep her potter’s skills sharp, Alysia takes classes at the Harvard Ceramics Studio in Allston, Massachusetts, where she is a member, and shares glaze and coloring recipes with the other artists. Alysia is proud to have her work displayed at our local gallery, and will continue making her beautiful treasures for years to come.