"The 50 States of Style 50" highlights influential American designers, buyers, crafters, and other intriguing creatives.
Name: Emily Reinhardt
Company: The Object Enthusiast
Made in: Omaha, Nebraska
"I discovered my love of clay in elementary school," says Emily Reinhardt of The Object Enthusiast. "I would play Barbies with my little sister, and while she was brushing their hair, I was busy making them hamburgers and jars of ketchup out of oven-baked clay." While Emily seemed destined for a career in ceramics, it was quite some time—not until college at Kansas State University—before she was formally introduced to the craft. Fortunately, she studied with the right mentors, and a happy accident with glaze lead to the gold leaf designs that have made her work so popular. Within months, she amassed an impressive Instagram following and became an Etsy sensation. Now she lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her boyfriend Luke Severson, an artist working at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and most days you can find her creating ceramics at her brand new wheel, or selling at pop up shops with big name brands like Madewell and Urban Outfitters. We had a long chat about her love of stuff, the beauty of "groundhog week," the importance of social media, and what she does for fun in Omaha.
How did you decide on the name "The Object Enthusiast?"
It actually started out as a blog. It's who I am. I'm into stuff. Let me into someone's home and let me peek around their things, especially their collections, and I'm so happy. I love seeing what people choose to hold onto.
What do you collect?
I started collecting ceramics from other artists at pottery sales in college. And trading is one of my favorite things to do. For example, I'll send a jewelry artist a vase and they'll send me a bracelet. Instagram has been such a great tool for connecting with other artists and seeing what they make and how they make it.
When did you get into ceramics?
At Kansas State, I took a ceramics class for beginners and I had the most wonderful teacher. She was so into her craft, and so personable and loving, that it made me want to get into it as well. My professor Yoshi was a true mentor. He gave me his kiln and wheel the year after he retired and told me "out of all your peers, I would only give this to you because you worked so hard." He saw something in me. He was a tough guy though. I think he got softer as he got older, but there are stories of him from the '80s where he'd see someone's work and throw it across the room and say, "This is terrible."
Did that ever happen to you?
No, but I had my fair share of crying after critiques with him. I don't think he was trying to be mean, he was just toughening me up by giving me a taste of criticism in the art world.
Gold leaf accents are a major feature in your work. Did that process evolve organically?
I was actually trying to cover up a glaze mistake. I'd made a vase that I was so proud of, and when I went to glaze it, it produced this awful bubbly-runny thing. But I loved the vase too much to throw it away, so it sat up on a shelf for the longest time, and then one day I started experimenting with gold leaf to cover up the blemishes and loved the result.
What was the first thing you made?
Probably a small tear drop vase. My boyfriend Luke makes molds, so a lot of his work is slip cast, which is something I started experimenting with. A lot of times, I can make a few forms, pick the best one, and then make a mold of it so they are very uniform in size and shape. The teardrop was a thrown vase and then it turned into a mold, so now I have three or four molds. I can cast them four at a time and ship them out a lot quicker.
How are your popular hex plates and circle ring dishes made?
I hand build the plates using a stencil. I roll out a slab and cut them out several at a time, similar to the way you would using a cookie cutter. For the circle ring dishes, I've cut off the ends of an old soup can so I can create uniform circles five at a time. The fun part is finding or making forms. I'm not perfect at throwing, so uniformity is difficult for me. The molds really help me to keep the shape and style similar. But the designs are different every time. There are never the same amount of accents on any one piece.
Where do you do your work?
In my basement, which is also my laundry room. It's a pretty tight space. I'd love a studio outside of the house, which will probably be my next step, but for right now, it works. I'm able to step downstairs and check on things at 11:00 at night.
Do you share the space with your boyfriend?
No, he gets a lot of perks from being an artist at the Bemis Center, and a work space is one of them.
What brought you to Omaha?
Luke landed his job at Bemis in 2012. At the time, I was working part time at a credit union in Kansas City, so when I moved out here to be with him a few months later, it was a pivotal moment. I wanted to see if I could make it without getting another job and it worked! I've been doing this full-time since September. Omaha's a great place for start-ups and young entrepreneurs.
Did you launch on Etsy like so many other young artists?
Yes, I started out by getting rid of undergrad ceramics. It felt like wishful thinking to assume I could make Etsy a full time gig.
Similar styles to yours have been popping up more and more. How do you feel when you see major brands ripping off emerging artists' designs?
It's heartbreaking and of course I'm worried. And I can't trademark my designs because each piece is hand painted. The patterns are too varied. I've also seen DIY projects featuring my work saying "I can make this for cheaper" and it hurts. It's not a blog post I want to see.
Do you respond?
I never have, but inside I'm thinking "of course you're making it cheaper—you're painting on plastic and it's not at all handmade." I try not to worry too much. I feel confident with what I've accomplished so far, and I'm also at the point where I'm ready to start doing some new things.
What's in the works?
I just made some dishes (above) that are food safe. They should be in the shop by mid-May. My biggest hurdle has always been that you can't eat dinner off gold leaf, so this spring and summer I'm hoping to develop some more mugs and tableware using my new wheel.
You sell a lot of ring dishes. Are you looking to dive more into the bridal market?
Yes, absolutely. It's a huge market and a logical evolution for me since I do so many bridesmaids gift orders.
How important is social media for you?
I used to blog all the time, but I think Instagram has replaced the time I was putting into blogging. I grew a very strong following this year. Instagram followed me for a two week period, and I got 1,000 new followers every day. It was thrilling. I'm so thankful they featured me.
What's a typical day like?
Each day is different, but each week is basically the same as the week before. My kiln is relatively small, so I make stuff for a few days, then I fill the kiln, then I spend some time sanding and preparing for the kiln, then I spend a day glazing, and the last step is gold leafing.
Sounds a bit like groundhog week!
Basically. But it's comforting to have my routine down and I just did some rearranging in my studio and some spring cleaning last weekend, so I'm feeling refreshed.
Start-ups can be exhausting. Do you ever take a break?
I just started taking Mondays off, but for several months, I was working all day every day and not giving myself a break. I loved what I was doing, but I didn't want to grow to resent it, so I'm learning the importance of time off. This spring, I've met some new friends in Omaha and I'm finally getting out of the house. We just went to the Omaha zoo and sometimes we'll meet up for margaritas.
Can you share a few words of advice for up-and-coming designers?
You may not land your dream job as fast as you want, but believe that every single day you are taking a step in the right direction and that you’re on the right path. It’s so easy to get discouraged. Do whatever you can to stay optimistic and know that each choice you make is leading you closer to your end goal.
Thank you so much, Emily!
A few of Emily's favorite things:
Favorite American shops:
Utilitarian Workshop in Kansas City is a dream of a shop to visit and I feel so incredibly lucky that they carry my work. Sword + Fern in Portland, OR was the first shop to carry my work and I have always dreamed of visiting. It seems like it belongs on my list, even though I haven’t been yet!
Favorite American restaurants:
La Buvette in Omaha. When I'm sitting on their patio, I can imagine I’m sitting in a quaint Parisian cafe, drinking wine and eating fancy cheeses. Since I’m a Kansas City girl at heart, I love going back to Westside Local when I’m in town. I can’t stay away!
Favorite artists and designers:
I used to want to be a photographer so I’m really into following other photographers and living vicariously through them. Kaley Cornett (Kaley from Kansas) is my favorite photographer. I have had the chance to work with her several times and the stories she tells through her images are so incredible. I love seeing things through her perspective. Mociun is the most talented jewelry designer I’ve ever come across. Her jewels make my heart beat faster! Britt Bass and Lulie Wallace are my two favorite painters.
Favorite American brands:
Herbivore Botanicals for body products in the most beautiful packaging. A MANO is an online shop featuring several American artists and I am proud to be part of those rotating collections.
Your most prized possession:
I have two rings that my dad gave my mom when they were dating. One is set with a ruby and small diamonds, and the other is a sapphire with small diamonds. I am always blown away by the jewelry my dad buys for my mom. He never needs help from his daughters! I am especially impressed knowing that he bought them when he was in college. He’s doing it right!
Favorite trip you've ever taken in the US and why?:
Washington D.C. It's so full of history, and I felt so much pride for my country, interest in our American roots, and excitement for where we’ll be in another few decades. There was so much to do there, I barely scratched the surface. I'm hoping to go back for a visit soon!
Five things that make you happiest:
Mornings, croissants, my boyfriend and dog, my job, and my friends and family.
NOTE: Emily will be selling at Urban Outfitters' pop up shop today from 2-7pm in Lawrence, Kansas and at Utilitarian Workshop's trunk show tomorrow (6-9pm) and Saturday (11am-7pm) in Kansas City, Missouri.