Beneath some railway arches in the east London neighborhood of Haggerston, a pack of clay dogs was ready to come to life. Among the group were a Boston terrier and a cockapoo, the work of ceramicist Alice Johnson, who makes personalized sculptures of people’s beloved animals through her business, Pottery Pets.
“I feel very lucky that that’s my job,” said Johnson, 29, who had the small dachshund she was caring for curled up on her lap. “I hope it’s something they treasure forever; that’s the point.”
Johnson was studying illustration at the University of Brighton when he began experimenting with air-drying clay, which does not need to be fired in a kiln, and, during a summer holiday, completed a three-day ceramics course that included making versions in clay from his two spaniels.
When he returned to school, he said his friends asked him if he could make replicas of their pets. “It actually happened pretty organically,” she said.
He graduated in 2017 and continued making the creatures while working on an MA in Ceramics and Glass at the Royal College of Art. As “people seemed interested,” he said, he officially established the business the year of his graduation, 2020.
She had been using a small space in a community studio, but in January, Ms. Johnson moved to a larger area of a shared space of about 160 square feet; On this rainy October day, she was already working on Christmas orders. News of her business has spread by word of mouth, she said, and orders are now coming in from far beyond Britain.
For example, Karen Blakelock, who works on climate policy in Washington, said she heard about the brand through her sister, who saw it on Instagram. She commissioned a statue of her sister’s dog as a 2022 wedding gift, and one of her own dog, a short-haired shepherd mix named Hudson, for her groom. “What could I get him for Christmas?” she asked. “Another sweater, you know?”
He added: “It really is like an opportunity to appreciate the unique brand, the uniqueness of your pet when you see it in that little art form.”
For Kendra Stautz, who works in mental health in Colorado, having a ceramic version of her Border collie was a way to remember him “while he was still as healthy as possible, so as not to associate him with losing him,” she said. she wrote in an email. He was diagnosed with kidney disease last year and he died last summer.
The statue is now displayed on his bookshelf, “so I can see it every day,” he wrote.
(It may seem like Ms. Johnson only recreates dogs, but she said she has also made cats, a cow and a rabbit.)
According to the 2023 annual report of Pets At Home, a British pet supplies retailer, there are more than 30 million pets in Britain alone. And accessories accounted for £1bn ($1.2bn) of the estimated £7.2bn value of Britain’s pet care market during 2022. In fact, some of the latest pet-focused innovations are pet showers. dogs for the home, built-in bowls, personalized products. Hidden cat cages and toilets. Hotels are increasingly catering to pets and their owners. And there’s a booming market for pet portraits on Etsy, as well as one in the jewelry world.
Ms. Johnson said she first asks a client to share photos of the pet and then discusses both the pose of the sculpture and any important markings on the animal that should be included.
Once she has made a form in clay, Ms. Johnson sends the client a photo update, requesting confirmation or requested changes. The piece then goes into the kiln in her studio to be fired, where it hardens before adding underglaze paints and pencil work to give texture to the surface.
“The eyes,” Ms. Johnson said, “are the most important part,” so they are done first to capture “your main character.” She then dips the figure in a transparent glaze, so that the final version is shiny, and returns it to the kiln for a final firing.
The statues are hollow so they can be shot without damage. But it also means that it could be used as an urn, if the ashes were placed inside and the opening at the bottom was sealed with a plug.
Johnson said it takes him four to eight weeks to complete an order, although he will make drawings that can be given as a sort of promise that a statue will come if something is needed immediately. Prices for him start at £280 for a seated figure 12 to 15 centimeters (or about 5 to 6 inches) tall. Pedestals, different positions and accessories for statues are extra.
Ms. Johnson said that recently she has found herself working on many accessories, such as a pair of ceramic sunglasses or a cloth scarf, or adding her favorite toys. She usually makes these items separately, so they can be added to or removed from the statue.
“I think there’s a sense of humor there,” he wrote in a later email, “a way to further highlight the character of the pets.”