Studio Session with Christiane Barbato

Chris MalloyOctober 13, 2020
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The words “dinner plate” may conjure visions of dainty, white and uniformly round china. In her North Phoenix home studio, Brazilian-born ceramist Christiane Barbato breaks from this bland dinner plate of yesteryear completely.

“I’m the daughter of an engineer, and my dad criticizes my style because he likes everything round or square,” Barbato says. “But I love organic shapes because they remind me of nature. My dream is always to get the glazes of natural elements, like river stones or gemstones.”

An MBA who traded deskwork for a 2,200-degree kiln, Barbato crafts dinnerware for restaurants and home cooks. Sample creations deck the shelves of her small indoor-outdoor studio, where upbeat music thrums as she shapes, dries, bisque-fires, glazes and fires clay. She makes plates, bowls, tureens, espresso cups, pitchers, saucers, serving bowls, sinks and more. Barbato, a meditator, finds clay soothing. “Clay always calms me down,” she says. “It makes me calm and centered.”

Her plates often have wavy lips, speckling and colors dissolving into faintly different shades – all calm. Oranges, reds and yellows are virtually absent. Barbato prefers browns, grays, off-whites and watery blues and greens. Her signature is intricate webbing that coats each plate’s underside, almost like an earthen snowflake. “I got that from a piece of pottery I bought from an Indian tribe in Brazil,” the artist says.

The pandemic has slowed Barbato’s restaurant work. At the same time, it has expanded her sales to home cooks. You can find her pieces at Binkley’s Restaurant, Wrigley Mansion and Roka Akor. You might even spot them in resorts in Hawaii and Napa Valley. And if you order from her website, bluedoorceramics.com, you can eat from her works of art any night of the week.

Legnoart Rolling Pin
To pancake clay hunks, Barbato uses an old-school wooden rolling pin. “It’s kind of like making a tortilla, or opening up a pie dough,” she explains.

Lace Doily
The artist first made her baroque designs beneath plates by pressing her grandmother’s lace doily onto clay, imprinting its patterns. When that ripped, Barbato shipped it as an example to an artisan in Latvia, who now custom-makes Barbato’s doilies.

Cappuccino Matte Glaze
Barbato’s colors give her work a riverside placidity. Her favorite? A dull, yellow-tinted light brown the hue of dinosaur bone, created by a “cappuccino matte” glaze.

Outdoor Canopy
Barbato glazes and fires outside, on a strip between her home studio and a hill. Come summer, she needs a sun blocker. “You have to adjust to Phoenix weather.”

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