Two sisters share their porcelain and poetry

"Vessels: A Conversation in Porcelain and Poetry" by Jennifer McCurdy.

The work of Vineyard-based ceramicist Jennifer McCurdy requires contemplation. The appeal of her sculptural pieces comes from the beauty of the twisting shapes, the symmetry and the intricacy of the carving that showcase both positive and negative space. Her decorative vessels are as fascinating as they are attractive. The artistry and flow of each piece gives it a sense of motion and evokes a mood.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Ms. McCurdy has combined images of her work with the poetry of her sister, Wendy Mulhern. The collaborative effort, titled “Vessels: A Conversation in Porcelain and Poetry,” features 200 pages of stunning full-color photos of Ms. McCurdy’s artwork paired with poems that complement the images — and vice versa.

In the book’s forward, the collaborators explain the inspiration behind the project. “The work of a potter is the creation of vessels. A poet also creates vessels — curving containers of carefully constrained words, held in dynamic balance so they can hold ideas, emotions, images.”

The work of your average ceramicist might be best compared in the literary world with prose. Most potters create functional pieces that serve as a means to an end. Prose, no matter how creative it may be, is generally straightforward, used to present a narrative. Poetry, on the other hand, uses words in abstract ways to evoke emotions. Similarly, Ms. McCurdy’s vessels are created not for practical purposes but as objects to be examined — possibly get lost in — for a moment in time.

Inspired by nature, the artist’s unglazed porcelain pieces feature swirls and gentle curves along with patterns created by meticulous carving. The gentle curves and details give many of the pieces the look of flowers, branches, seashells, and other organic forms. There is almost always a sense of motion — the opening of a blossom, a branch reaching towards the sun, sea plants waving gently with the movement of the water. Oftentimes the artist uses 14-karat gold leaf on the interior of the vessels, providing a further dimension and another reflection on light and shadow.

Ms. McCurdy has been working with porcelain for more than 30 years. She travels to high-end fine arts crafts fairs, shows at galleries all across the country, and has won awards for her unique labor-intensive work. Examples of Ms. McCurdy’s vessels are included in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Brooklyn Museum. On the Vineyard, the artist is represented by the Louisa Gould Gallery, where she and her sister recently hosted a book reading and signing.

Ms. Mulhern, who lives in Seattle, has authored and designed eight books of poetry, five of which she illustrated. On her blog,, she posts a poem a day.

The poet describes herself as “a student of life and a spiritual seeker.” Her work is very life-affirming; she often uses nature as metaphor. Choosing any page at random, one will find inspiration in her work, and a positive, highly introspective style. The bio on Ms. Mulhern’s website gives an idea of her positive energy: “Other loves are for everything big and wild enough to entirely overwhelm my sense of scale — oceans, mountains, wild rivers; music; poetry; ‘aha’ moments.”

In a recent interview, Ms. McCurdy commented on her connection to her sister’s poetry. “Of course, all potters think of the geological time of things,” she said. “I was really attracted to poems that talk about ancient senses of things. She’s an inspirational poet. Her poems are very uplifting. You can see the metaphysical aspects of some of the things I’m exploring in the earthly realm.”

Reading the poet’s statement in the section of the book called “Parallels,” it’s easy to see how the two sisters have a close kinship, not just as especially close family members, but in their artistry as well. Of her poetry, Ms. Mulhern writes, “For me creating poetry is kinesthetic and synesthetic work. I feel principles of relationships in tern of dynamic forces — centrifugal spinning, gravitation, flow.”

The images alone make the book worthwhile. The glorious photography is a mix of studio shots by Gary Mirando and photos by Louis Friedman, the famed designer and photographer based in Louisville, Ky., based. The latter’s images show Ms. McCurdy’s work placed in natural surroundings — on the beach, among leaves on a still pond, set atop frozen terrain, even plunged beneath the water. Towards the back of the book is a photographic step-by-step illustration of the ceramicist’s process.

Combined with the poetry, the book makes a great gift, or a unique addition to one’s library of art books, something to be perused and enjoyed over time.

To see Ms. McCurdy’s work, visit