Deborah Goldman’s porcelain works explore the dynamic interplay of light and form

Deborah Goldman in her New Paltz studio. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Deborah Goldman’s one-of-a-kind, translucent porcelain vessels are influenced by Asian aesthetics and minimalism. Her working method is to throw each piece on the wheel, then carve and etch the clay to create thin layers and textures revealed by varying light conditions, playing off the relationship between form and light. The vessels are either unglazed or lightly glazed using oxides and soluble metal salts that give the pieces a subtle wash of color.

“Porcelain has several properties that make it kind of magical,” says Goldman. “It has silica in it, so it’s glass-like; the finish is very smooth and silky. And it’s a very white material, so glazes really ‘pop.’ But I love the translucence of it; that’s my thing.”


Unlike stoneware or earthenware, porcelain can form delicate, thin-walled vessels and shapes, which allows that translucence that Goldman finds so appealing. But while it’s a strong material, it’s also more finicky to work with than other clays, she says. “Some people say it’s like working with cream cheese. I don’t think that’s really true, but it is very stretchy and sort of plastic when you work with it.”

Porcelain is also not very forgiving. “If I wanted to make a vase out of stoneware, I could play around with it and keep changing it. Porcelain will not let you do that; you have to know where you’re going with it.”

Goldman also has an ongoing series of works that explore the dynamic interaction between individual forms by grouping similar shapes together into “still life” formations. “I’m interested in how each group inhabits space and how the separate pieces relate to one another. One object states its presence in a particular way. But as one of many, its importance changes. It might be diminished, or by being part of a large group, have greater impact.”

After growing up in Westchester, Goldman earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Boston University. She went to graduate school for early childhood education and began teaching. She started working in clay as a hobby, finding her passion for porcelain while taking a series of workshops at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. The hobby turned into something more serious, and while teaching ceramics for nearly 30 years at The Spence School in New York City, Goldman maintained a studio practice part time.

She moved up to the Hudson Valley in 1987 in search of a “real community” to live in, even though it would mean commuting down to her job in the city. She knew some people in the area and lived in Rifton at first, moving to New Paltz after meeting and marrying Lee Reich (“Gardener’s Notebook” columnist for Almanac Weekly).

Goldman stopped teaching about three years ago. She lives and maintains her studio now on the “farmden” — “more than a garden, less than a farm” — created by her husband. “My commute to my studio now is a walk across a field,” she says; “a huge improvement over two hours on a bus each way to and from work!”

Now that Goldman isn’t working in the city any more, she can also spend more time in the garden, although she’s quick to point out that it’s her husband who tends the farmden. “That’s Lee’s thing. I love the food he grows, and I love to be outside, and the exercise, but I’m not a gardener.”

Goldman has exhibited her work locally and nationally in solo and group shows in museums and galleries, and has participated in a number of fine craft shows including the highly competitive Smithsonian Craft Show and the Philadelphia Museum Show. Last year she won “Best of Show” at the annual fine craft show mounted at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester.

But at this point in her career, Goldman says she is less interested in entering craft shows than she is in exploring the sculptural possibilities in her work. Recently, she began working on some figurative pieces meant to be seen in groups. “I’ve never really worked figuratively before, but once you take a cylinder and put a head on it, it takes on a life of its own. The figures look up and arch and behave in ‘body-like’ ways. I don’t really know where they’re going yet, or what they’re about, but I’m intrigued with these things I’m making, and they seem to be saying something.”

Ultimately, Goldman says, “I just love working with my hands, and I love making beautiful things.” The element of surprise (or occasional disappointment) when something comes out of the kiln keeps things interesting, and there are always new things to explore. For more information, visit