The Internet Can’t Get Enough of Dominique Ostuni’s Gilded, Whimsical Porcelain

The Bowdoinham ceramicist releases new pottery collections on her website twice a month, and they sell out within minutes.

By Sara Anne Donnelly
Photos by Hannah Hoggatt
From our February 2024 issue

At first glance, Bowdoinham ceramicist Dominique Ostuni’s playfully illustrated, cartoonishly crooked porcelain looks breezy and childlike — fit for teatime in Wonderland with the Mad Hatter. Ostuni’s latest collection of roughly 200 gilded, hand-pinched wares was inspired by childhood memories of her mother’s Italian restaurants in upstate New York. On mugs, cups, plates, and candlesticks, the image of a table with a red-checkered cloth beneath a blue-curtained window recurs alongside phrases, rendered in tiny block letters, such as “take a seat,” “pecorino, brandy, capers, preserved lemon,” and her mother’s mantra, “everything begins at the kitchen table.”

Dominique Ostuni in her Bowdoinham studio

But as in Wonderland, something deeper and disquieting is simmering too. Some of Ostuni’s pieces read like secrets. On one mug, candy-yellow lemons and bumblebees dance over the declaration, “I know I have been unfolding. (Don’t worry.)” Another mug, decorated with flowers and baskets of fruit, promises, “You see me less, you like me more.” Drip glazes cause the playroom colors to bleed together, blurring the words, as if to say that these are Ostuni’s thoughts and perhaps they’re also yours, but how much do they matter if they’re already half gone?

After graduating from Portland’s Maine College of Art & Design, in 2017, with a BFA in ceramics, Ostuni began to feel disconnected from the process of creating and selling. “I realized I don’t want to just make tableware,” she says. “I want to make things that make people think and make me think.” During a postgrad residency in Rome, she decided to bring the trove of introspective painting, drawing, collage making, and journaling she’d been doing on the side into her pottery. Soon after, all 17 pieces of her first collection combining words and imagery sold in less than 10 minutes on Instagram.

Three years ago, Ostuni moved to Bowdoinham, where she met fellow ceramicist Sara Cox, of Delilah Pottery. The two became fast friends and Ostuni eventually relocated her workshop to Cox’s cheerful, light-filled home studio in a former garage. “Sara is the only person I can work next to,” Ostuni says. “We meshed together immediately, but we also know when to leave each other alone.” One recent afternoon, Ostuni was toiling solo, cutting mug bases from wet clay with a 28-ounce tomato can. On one side of a window framed in mint-green trim, a bulletin board held a hodgepodge of drawings, collages, photos, and hand-written notes. On the other side, shelves displayed finished works, including a pair of dainty candlesticks with shining gold bows Ostuni was particularly pleased with. “I don’t keep any of the work I make, but I think I will keep one of those,” she said.

Twice a month, on her website, Ostuni releases new pottery collections that sell out within minutes. Buyers she has never met sometimes message her to ask what she meant by a certain word or phrase and to share what it means to them. “I’ll usually say what I was thinking at the time, which is probably completely different from what they’re resonating with,” Ostuni says. “But isn’t it beautiful that it was able to bring us together?”

Ostuni sells her ceramics ($35– $300) on her website, at The Lost Kitchen, in Freedom, and The Post Supply, in Portland.

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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