Herman Verhagen | J.C. Herman Ceramics
Nestled amongst the charming boutiques and flower shops on the Herenstraat, and just between the famous canals Keizersgracht and Herengracht, is the beautiful shop/atelier of
Amsterdam-based ceramicist Herman Verhagen, also known as
. While Amsterdam may now be the home of his craft, it was
actually in Paris that he traded his love for 3D animation for the potter’s wheel. Now, Herman creates refined, timeless designs that draw on both Japanese and Nordic styles; each one
of his ceramics is sculpted by hand and with the utmost care. We visited Herman on a sunny afternoon to talk about his love for the craft and his dreams for the future. -
photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us about your background.
Where should I start? I have a very diverse background. I’m originally from Dordrecht. When I was 16 years old, I joined a pottery class, just for fun. My grandfather sold Zaalberg pottery and my cousin had a poster of it hanging in her room; one day we were talking about it and she said, why don’t we just go take a class. At 18, I went to the St. Joost Academy in Breda to study graphic design. I did that for almost a year but switched to studying Dutch at the Hogeschool in Rotterdam. Then, when I was 24, I decided that I wanted to go back to art school, to the Rietveld Academy this time, but not for graphic design, for audiovisual studies. I was introduced to all kinds of crafts and worked glass, wood, metals, everything but ceramics (laughs). After graduation, I left to Paris to work in animations and 3D visualizations. I found a few small jobs, like working for an architect who needed help making 3D visualizations for projects he was working on, and at an Internet company. But I was sitting at a computer all day, every day, and eventually I was fed up. I so happened to buy a nice plant at the time and tried to find a pot for it, but couldn’t find one at the flea markets and eventually thought, I’m going to make it myself. I walked into a ceramics shop and just asked them: “Can I make this pot?” That’s when I decided to become a professional ceramicist.
How does one become a professional ceramicist?
In France, you can only call yourself an artisan when you’ve worked on that craft for a certain number of hours. It’s about a years worth of work, so I did that and received my certification as ‘artisan’. I wanted to open a shop in Paris, but it’s really so expensive if you want to be somewhere in the center of the city. So I headed back to Amsterdam. Through friends, I had heard about the 1012 Project to diversify the Red Light District. I was able to get a space, which was great, and I stayed there for three years before moving here to the Herenstraat. That was a year and a half ago.
What was it about Paris that interested you?
I had visited a few times and felt like there was something in the air. For some reason, I had the idea that something was going to happen. I don’t know if it ever did (laughs), but as an artist I just had this feeling that I had to be there.
[We’re interrupted by a woman who walks out of the shop and says, “You just make the most beautiful things.” Herman replies, “Oh thank you. There’s actually another ceramics shop just a few streets away, if you’re interested. It’s a small shop on the Hartenstraat that makes and sells blue and white pottery. You can’t miss it.”]
Do you think that the city influenced your work?
When I first started I was working in the Delftware style, which is actually very Dutch (laughs). And I even made a few tulip vases. And I have a funny story about when I first started working in Amsterdam. I wanted to work primarily with local materials, including local clay. They had just started drilling the metro tunnel in the city and I really wanted to get my hands on that clay. I finally got a hold of the contractors and they told me that I had to be ready because the minute they would find clay, I would have to come over and get it. So I had a traditional bakfiets ready and eventually I got the call; I raced over to the end of the Amstel with a few buckets and managed to scoop up enough clay to work with. Turned out, the clay wasn’t that great (there was a lot of sand and shells in the clay). It was really fun, and I created a few cups using the local clay but I soon decided to switch to better quality clay from Germany.
But back to Paris… What I did take away from my time there was the idea that you should enjoy the work you’re doing. That if you’re really passionate about what you’re doing, it really shows. And regarding my work specifically, I think that you can see a lot of Asian influences, and traces of a Nordic style. I guess you could say it’s a fusion of those two, and a little bit of me, of course!
I think there’s a renewed interest in handmade products and recently, people are more open to spending a little bit more money on something unique. Have you witnessed that?
Honestly, I think that’s the reason why I’m still here. The year that I started out, the Danish restaurant Noma was voted one of the best restaurants in the world. They received a lot of attention, all over the world. It was made known they use handmade ceramics in the restaurant. Chefs from all over the world were looking to Noma for inspiration for their own restaurants. The week after I opened, the owner of the restaurant De Wilde Zwijnen biked by the shop, biked back, ran in and said, “This is exactly what I have been looking for!” He placed the very first order: 10 plates. A week later he came back and placed another. We still have a very good relationship today. So yes, I think the value of ceramics, even in the restaurant scene, has changed dramatically over the years. It’s hard to say if people in general have changed their perspectives with regards to handmade products, but some definitely have. I know that because I can make a living making and selling my ceramics. I even try to keep that handmade aspect quite visible in my work; sometimes the glaze isn’t perfect or there’s a small dent here or a there. That’s what makes it real. And I honestly prefer to buy products that someone has created with care.
Tell us more about the creation process.
This space here on the Herenstraat functions as both a shop and my workspace. We do everything here. I turn on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It takes one day to dry: then the clay is semi-hard and good enough to finish off. On Wednesdays and Fridays I flip them over. In between turning the new pieces, I find the time to glaze the pieces from the week before. On Saturdays I try to focus more on actually being in the shop; it’s usually busier with customers then. It’s so great to have a shop and workspace in one – people can walk in the shop and give me feedback on the pieces I have, or give me insights into what they’re missing. I listen to my customers and create new products according to their needs – for example, I don’t drink tea but when I heard that a lot of people were drinking Chai tea, I decided to make a designated Chai teacup.
How do you see the future?
I would like to continue working with other shops. I recently worked with Restored on the Haarlemmerdijk, which I really enjoyed. There’s a shop in Paris selling my things too, Chez Moi. And there’s a place opening up in Antwerp next year with a bar and several shop-in-shops so I might do that. And I was approached by a place in Vienna. [Smiles] But to be honest, I’m happy with the way things are going here in Amsterdam. Maybe one day I’ll look into Paris again… We’ll see!
Thank you, Herman, for this interview! Check out Herman's work on his website , follow along on Facebook , or visit the shop/atelier on Herenstraat 10, open Tuesday to Saturday from 12 to 6pm.