In our kitchens, we gravitate toward pieces that merge longevity, quality, and utility — tools we can use for years, over and over, both functional and beautiful. Isatu Hyde's work at Studio Artificer is the perfect representation of this. Isatu is a ceramicist whose ethos is grounded in resurfacing time-honored forms of pottery and craft, both in her own work and in collaboration with a group of local artists.
Her bread cloches are one of our favorite new objects to introduce to Gjusta Goods — made from lightweight, mica-rich clay that is formed to create a steamy vessel for bread-baking, resulting in a loaves with a unique, light texture and beautiful crust.
We spoke with Isatu to learn a bit more about her thoughtful approach to collaboration; what makes bread-baking in the cloches so magical; and the comforting recipes she is cooking at home this winter.
Photos by Jason Ingram unless otherwise noted.
Can you share a bit more about your background and what led you to where you are today?
I was born in Shropshire, UK and I live and work there today. I studied Design for Sustainability at university and worked as an apprentice to potter, Andrew Crouch, for 4 years subsequently. I had originally begun to study Architecture before design, but found I wanted to work more directly with my hands and it wasn’t until I began my apprenticeship that I really found the subject to grab my full attention.
I now run my own workshop and Craft and Design studio with my partner, Kai, who is a carpenter and furniture maker. It’s called Studio Artificer and we sell our own and other people’s work, as well as working on private commissions together.
Your studio has a really unique approach to collaborating directly with your community. Can you share more?
All the contributors are good friends of mine and members of my local community. Nothing I’m sourcing comes from more 10 miles away and they are makers that I know well, respect deeply and have learnt from in some way myself. Apart from Kai, they are all at least a generation older than me, and all (bar one) have always sold the majority of their work directly, but are finding that more problematic with the increase in online shopping and the current limitations due to COVID-19.
I always wanted Artificer to be a platform that really worked with the personal work-processes of the makers. A lot of commission work can be pressured and have short deadlines or specific requirements for the client. I want Artificer to be a space where makers can sell work that has been made in its own time, and is a deeply personal and true expression of the maker’s passion for what they do with their hands and minds.
Rather than ask for specific pieces to be made for the shop, I visit the makers and talk with them about their work and what they’d like to sell. Often the pieces that makers are proud or feel most attached to are the ones that are hiding in the back of their workshop because they don’t feel there’s a market for it. Work like this is often based in a deep historical and technical understanding of the craft and needs careful explaining. It’s not time efficient and it doesn’t guarantee any consistency for the shop (other than the quality of work) but it’s the only way I want to work with makers. It’s the only way I could work honestly with makers because I am a maker and it’s what I’d like for myself.
We love your beautiful clay bread cloches – can you explain a bit more about how their particular shape is optimal for bread-baking?
People have been cooking in clay for thousands of years. There are countless examples of clay cooking pots and ovens from all over the world, from the Indian Tandoor oven, to the Japanese Donabe and the trusty British Chicken brick. The aim is mostly the same, to trap moisture around the food to prevent it from drying out when cooking.
There are also many health benefits from cooking in clay, and it is known as the preferred material for Ayurvedic cooking. This is due in part to its ability to cook steadily and slowly at high temperatures without burning, which avoids the loss of delicate nutrients and flavors. Clay is also alkaline and so can act to neutralize high acid foods, which makes them easier for us to digest. Also, less oil is needed and a lower heat source is required because of clay’s natural insulating abilities.
Baking bread in a cloche keeps the dough in a steamy atmosphere during cooking time, mimicking steam-injected ovens used in industry (which are actually mimicking old brick and clay ovens) and allowing for an evenly cooked, well-developed crust and optimum rise. The end result is a bigger, lighter loaf with a golden color. The trapped steam enables the crust to open and develop more steadily, letting more moisture out of the loaf during baking.
When designing functional pottery pieces that are borne from a lineage of clay traditions, where do you start with getting inspired for new pieces?
Books and museums are a very important part of my creative process. I spend a lot of time pouring through books and resources related to sculpture, painting, ceramics, photography, and so on.
I’ve been using my micaceous cooking pots a lot at home recently, cooking on the wood burner stove which is always blazing at the moment because our house is freezing.