Masters of Mid-Century Ceramics: Maija Grotell


Photo courtesy of Plum Tree Pottery.

Maija Grotell studied ceramics in Helsinki before migrating to New York in 1927. The ceramicist taught at various schools and entered her work in small shows and exhibitions over the next 10 years, slowly becoming more recognized for her impeccable ceramics work. Her big break came along when Eliel Saarinen invited her to become head of the ceramics department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.


Maija Grotell and Nelly Beveridge at work in the Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1940. Photo courtesy of the Cranbrook Archives.

Cranbrook is considered by many to be epicenter of the early 20th century modernist movement. Grotell taught there for 30 years, during which time she worked with sculptor Carl Milles, designer Eero Saarinen, and many other prominent figures in the world of art and architecture. Some of her finest work was accomplished during this time. Besides her many, many ceramic works, she also helped Eero Saarinen develop the brilliantly-colored brick glazes that are still present on the walls of the 1965 General Motors Technical Center.

She continued to influence the practice of mid-century ceramics until she retired in 1966. Today, her works are prized and represented in the permanent collections of museums across the world.


General Motors Technical Center with glazed brick walls – Warren, Michigan, 1965. Photo courtesy of Curbed.


Glazed stoneware, 1940. Photo courtesy of the Met Museum.


Painted vase, 1940s.  Photo courtesy of Worthpoint.


Vase, 1940s. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Lindley Martin Ceramics.


Vase in mottled glaze, 1950s. Photos courtesy of Worthpoint.

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Vase, 1952. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.


Glazed stoneware vase, 1950s. Photo courtesy of Live Auctioneer.


Glazed Ceramics, 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum.


Glazed stoneware, 1950. Photo courtesy of the Moderne Gallery.

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July 23rd, 2015|0 Comments

Masters of Mid-Century Ceramics: Barbara Willis


The shiny cracked look that is so common-place on pottery pieces of today was not so mainstream in the 1940s. That was when Barbara Willis first achieved her distinctive crackled ceramic glaze. For the time, the look was innovative and sophisticated, and within 5 years Willis’s ceramics were some of the most sought-after in California.


Unfortunately, Willis was forced out of business in the 1950s when the market was flooded with inexpensive imported pottery, and she turned to other professions to make ends meet. Willis didn’t put her hand to the potter’s wheel again until the late 1980s, when a renewed interest in mid-century art brought her work into the limelight.

Surprised and pleased, Willis was well into her seventies when began making her ceramics anew. She continued creating her art until she was no longer able to lift the heavy clay, at the age of 92. Her work is still sought-after and prized in the ceramics market today.

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All above photos courtesy of ‘Barbara Willis: Classic California Modernism’ by Jack Chipman.


California’s Designing Women, 1896-1986. Autry Museum, Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Abigail Stone.

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July 9th, 2015|0 Comments

Modernica’s Adorable Ceramic Tabletop Bowl, Now with More Snazz


Modernica’s Case Study Ceramic® Tabletop Bowls are the smallest in our line of ceramic planters. At only 8″ in diameter, the pot is positively cute. Now, with a matching stand in walnut, the Tabletop Bowl is looking a little more grown-up. Together, bowl and stand are 6 1/2″ high, so they are still small enough to fit in perfectly on almost any shelf or side table.

Another great thing about this planter? The small size makes for a great price point; grab one for you AND a friend! See it for yourself in our Los Angeles Showroom, or take a look at the Modernica online store. All Case Study Ceramics® are available with free shipping in the contiguous United States.

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June 5th, 2015|0 Comments

Modern Garden Part 2: Container Herbs

The second installment of our Modern Garden series is perfect for your balcony or rooftop garden. This week we planted a container herb garden – a wonderful way to cultivate fresh herbs in a small space.


We chose popular, easy-to-find herbal plants that can adapt well to containers and indoor spaces. A few points to remember when planting your own ceramic herb garden:

  1. Drainage is vital. Your containers must have holes in the bottom to facilitate adequate drainage. Modernica’s ceramic planters are not sold standard with drainage holes, but the holes can be drilled upon request at purchase, or if you prefer to DIY, you can drill them yourself with a ceramic drill bit.
  2. Elevation is ideal. As you can see in the photo above, we chose planters with elevated stands to further ensure proper drainage and air flow.
  3. Sun is essential. Herb gardens are best suited for balcony and roof gardens since they need lots of sunlight to thrive.

If you like the look of our container herb garden, you can create your own with our wide selection of Case Study Ceramics, and a few of the plants below:

Chocolate Mint


Chocolate mint leaves have a delightful minty chocolate flavor, similar to the classic Girl Scout cookie. They are attractive, fragrant, and easy to grow, but you’ll want to keep them trimmed back if they are planted alongside other herbs. Mint is notorious for spreading rapidly and overcoming the plants around it.

Greek Oregano


Greek oregano has a delicious pungent flavor, claimed to be better and sharper than traditional oregano. It is a perennial warm-season herb, hardy to frost and light freezes.

Lemon Balm


While lemon balm’s clean, lemony flavor can be used in drinks and desserts much like its mint cousins, it is widely known for its calming, relaxing effects. The hardy little plant is not picky about soil, but wants lots of sun and water.

Garden Sage


Sage is a wonderfully-versatile herb that can add flavor to vegetables, meats, soups, or stuffings. The plant wants sandy or loamy soils in full sun, but can tough through many different weather conditions.



Every kitty’s favorite herb is easy to grow and will tolerate most soil conditions. You’ll want to keep it trimmed back, since catnip loves to take over any space you put it in. The real trick is how to keep your felines from nibbling it to death.

Onion Chives


Chives come with a double benefit of both flavor and beauty. The tasty plant acts as a great seasoning, and occasionally sprouts beautiful purple flowers that are also edible. This is one of the few herbs that can sustain colder temperatures from time to time.

Sweet Basil

Lemon Balm

Basil serves as a delicious addition to vegetable and pasta dishes, and serves several purposes in natural medicine. It is easy to grow, but is sensitive to cold temperatures so bring it inside when the weather drops below 70º F.



This herb will add distinction to your meat and seafood dishes, and is also quite easy to grow. Terragon is hardy and can withstand a range of temperatures. This particular plant prefers a little less sun than its herbal neighbors, and enjoys dappled shade throughout the day.

March 27th, 2015|0 Comments

Modern Garden Week 1: California Natives

Take out those spades and shovels; spring is only 15 days away and it’s time to get your garden on! We’re celebrating spring with our own series of modern plantings, featuring different plants each week in Modernica’s Case Study Ceramics.

This week, we’ve looked in our own proverbial backyard to bring you four lovely plantings – all native to our local California climate.


Monterey Cypress (Hesperocyparis Macrocarpa)

Monterey cypress is a species native to the Central Coast of California. Some say this particular species is over 2,000 years old. You can find seedlings in nurseries throughout central and southern California.


We chose a Case Study Ceramic Cylinder for the cypress because it’s deep enough to support the little tree’s future root growth. Here’s a how to:

For this tree, it is important to loosen up the roots and tease out any coiled roots. Then, you want the top of the root ball to sit approximately 2 inches above the surrounding soil. Once it is in place and at the proper depth, fill the hole with soil to within about four inches from the top and water gently. Then, continue filling the container with soil, firming the soil as you go. Cover the area around the base of the tree with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. This particular tree needs good drainage, lots of sun, and regular watering to thrive.

Wendy Bells (Heuchera ‘Wendy’)

This California native sports delicate pink flowers in the spring and summer that are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.


We chose a large Case Study Ceramic Bowl for our Wendy Bells to set off their long stalks and flowers. Like most flowers, planting is relatively simple. Fill the pot about 2/3 full with potting mix and gently place the roots into the center of the container. Then, gently pat in the the remaining soil until no roots show through and add water to make the soil moist. Wendy Bells need to sit in a partly shady spot and only require water about every 2 weeks.

Figueroa Purple Sage (Salvia Leucophylla Figueroa)

This aromatic sage is native to the southern coastal mountain ranges of California and blooms in spring and summer with lovely bunches of purple flowers.

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Given space and sunlight, the plant can grown into a nice low-lying shrub, so we chose a relatively-deep Ceramic Bowl to give it plenty of room to grow. The little shrub wants clay, loam or sandy soil with excellent drainage and lots of direct sunlight. It requires water once a week for the first 6 weeks, after which it should only be watered when the soil becomes completely dry.

Sea Lettuce (Dudleya Caespitosa)

Growing along the SoCal coastline, this pretty little succulent is a great option for rock gardens and container gardens. Every once in awhile it sprouts a tall clump of rosettes that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Sea Lettuce

Sea lettuce likes sandy, well-draining soil, but doesn’t need a lot of root space, which is why we placed it in our smallest Table-top Bowl. Like most drought-resistant succulents, it only needs to be watered occasionally.


All of the above plants were acquired at the Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery, a non-profit company that is dedicated to the understanding, preservation and use of California native flora. Please click here to learn more about their organization and inventory.


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March 6th, 2015|0 Comments