Find Your Inner Artist at Berman Ceramic Arts in North Hollywood

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ninastern90BY NINA STERN

Harry Berman believes that there is an artist in everyone. That is the guiding philosophy of the ceramics school and studio he founded 37 years ago on Cahuenga Blvd. in North Hollywood, decades before the area had been transformed into the trendy NoHo Arts District. The longest-operating studio of its type in the San Fernando Valley, Berman Ceramic Arts (formerly known as the Cahuenga School of Pottery) is a creative oasis that exists far from the real world of demanding jobs, clogged freeways and life’s other daily stresses.

Berman unloading the kiln_300

Harry Berman unloading the kiln. All photos: Jim McCullaugh ©2009

When I began taking classes at the studio three years ago, I was somewhat intimidated by the idea of committing myself to something I’d barely dabbled in more than 30 years earlier. I soon found that the relaxed, supportive environment – where advanced students share their expertise generously with the newbies, and everyone is encouraged to progress at his or her own pace – was both welcoming and encouraging. What goes ’round comes ’round, and Harry’s dedication to his students is expressed in their allegiance to the studio and to the astounding range of hand-thrown and hand-built work they create.

My fellow ceramists range from late teens to late 80s in age, from beginning level to advanced. We are teachers, lawyers, professors, accountants, students, architects, nurses, entertainment professionals, executive assistants, retirees, working artists. We all infuse our work with our own personal style, which, according to Harry, is what he enjoys most about teaching. “I’m fascinated by how students’ personalities are expressed in their work,” he says. “Every student is different, so I teach no two people in the same way.”

Students work the wheel.

Students work the wheel.

Students tend to be divided between throwers and hand-builders, and there exists a kind of mutual admiration society between the two, since each technique brings its own creative vision and learned set of skills. Every time a kiln is opened after a firing, a group of students crowds around as a broad and tantalizing array of objects is revealed – rustic earthenware pots, porcelain vases with delicate embellishments, macabre satirical demons, lyrical long-necked bottles, life-like fish, fowl, amphibians and mammals – dramatically glazed in translucent pale greens and blues, lustrous reds and bronzes, a veritable rainbow of rich color and nuance. As pieces are pulled from the kiln, a favorite guessing game among us all is trying to figure out what glazes were applied, and in which combinations, to create a particularly breathtaking effect. (Only the artist knows for sure!)

Author Nina Stern glazing a lid.

Author Nina Stern glazing a lid.

Classes are held three times a week: Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday afternoon. The studio is also open to enrolled students on Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning until class begins. In addition to Harry, there are two wonderful instructors who share his dedication to their students, and are working artists themselves – Robert Miller and Kitty Sheehan.

For myself, and I’d venture to say for many of my fellow ceramists, the hours spent at the studio are definitely high points of each week. The fun for me starts with Wednesday night’s class – hump day never felt so good! Then, when Friday evening rolls around, and the gradual layers of a work-week’s worth of stress start sliding off, a smile begins to curl the corners of my mouth as it sinks in – that – tomorrow – is – Saturday! It’s the day of the week I cherish most of all, because it means I can spend 7 or 8 uninterrupted hours in the studio.

Pottery class.

Pottery students show off their wares.

On Saturday morning, as soon as I’ve downed an obligatory mug of java and thrown on my clay-stained potters’ garb, I’m off for a full day of throwing, trimming, glazing and, sometimes, daydreaming about what to try next. Like losing oneself in a mesmerizing piece of music, the immersion in clay – literally and figuratively – is transporting for me, a kind of primal connection to a creative past, present and future. Now that I’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s hard to imagine NOT being arm-deep in clay for many years to come.

Harry Berman assisting a student.

Harry Berman assisting a student.

This weekend, the public is welcome to visit Berman Ceramic Arts during its annual fall open house and holiday sale, which will showcase pieces by over 20 local artists, teachers and advanced students who work there. It’s a chance to tour the facility, meet the potters and sculptors who are exhibiting, and find something totally unique and hand-made for that special someone in your life (or yourself!). Hundreds of one-of-a-kind ceramic objects will be displayed, from functional mugs, bowls and casseroles to decorative vases and dramatic sculptures. Prices will start as low as $10.

Berman Ceramic Arts, 5622 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601; Telephone: 818.766.4618;

Nina Stern is the owner/president of Nina Stern Public Relations, a Sherman Oaks-based marketing communications firm, as well as a former journalist.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Jeff Deasy

    Such beautiful objects make buying gifts locally an easy call!

  • LIsa

    Wow, what a great place.

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