Not Work Related may boast the Picasso of ceramists: Sarah Hussaini, a mainstay Brooklynite, a pottery virtuoso, and a Greenpointers market favorite. (Catch her and her ceramic wonders at our spring market on April 22!) In this week’s Thursday Spotlight, we caught up with Sarah and discussed her fresh Instagram, the “succulent mansions” she creates for plants, and her budding career (no pun intended).
Greenpointers: Can you tell me about the origin of the company name? Sarah Hussaini: When I formally started NotWorkRelated, I was working at one of the largest global architectural practices in the city. It was everything I hated about the corporate office: stiff, uptight, cold, vicious hours. Needless to say, working there was killing me slowly. “NotWorkRelated” was purposely steered in the opposite direction: I wanted the pieces to have character, to be fun and whimsical, and to be things that brought personality back into our overly serious lives.
GP: How long has NWR been around?
SH: It was started at the beginning of 2016 — at a moment when I had accumulated so much pottery that it no longer made sense for me to keep it in boxes for myself. I thought that maybe some of them were good and fantasized that they would see the light of day in new hands and homes.
GP: Where do you work out of/where do you create your products?
SH: I work out of a shared studio in Manhattan, but as you know space is tight. I think I’m on the verge of bringing my work back to Brooklyn, closer to home. I really just need more space and less congestion! After fighting for space everywhere in the city, I just want room to breathe in the studio.
But I’ve lived in the North half of Greenpoint for a few years now.
GP: Do you have a favorite type of project to work on?
SH: I actually have loved doing markets/fairs, even though I don’t always have time for them. They’re a great place to bring new experiments or test a new series. It’s a way to see how people interact and respond to pieces in a live setting. Market research 😉
Earlier this year, I spent two months at Canal Street Market doing a pop-up and it was so interesting to learn about my own work. I was able to see which pieces catch peoples’ eyes and which pieces move the fastest off the shelves. I found myself constantly restocking very particular items, and that was invaluable to learn. You don’t see that at a market, because there is no restocking that happens: I bring whatever I have and almost everything is gone by the end, so it’s hard to gauge “Most Popular.”
GP: Any interesting individualized projects you’ve created?
Last fall, I made 65 vases for a couple of friends that were getting married. It was a very open-ended request and I tried to follow through with that on my end. It was a rare situation where I sat down at the wheel with measured balls of clay and made whatever felt appropriate in that moment. It resulted in a range of pieces that were the same size and glazed in a strict color palate, but otherwise were free to change shape and body. This rarely happens for me and felt like such a luxury. I’m almost always working off of a precise schedule and through a pre-designed process, especially when filling orders.
My next personal project is to make a set of tableware for my home. Believe it or not, I get to keep almost none of my own work. (I do have a couple OG pieces, but not many!) I never get to form that intimate relationship with my work after it comes out of the kiln. Almost all of my interaction with a piece happens before it’s finished; after that point it changes hands and has a whole new life. It would be such a treat to have my own work to use on a daily basis, undoubtedly it would result in tweaks as I learn from own utilitarian preferences.
GP: Your products are like mansions for succulents—they’re such pretty ways to house the plants. Why do you think the trend of these tiny but mighty plants persists? SH: Thank you — that is so kind! I think that in New York City and across the US this new working generation is busier than ever; we are all struggling to balance our jobs with our lives. It often means that we are never home and succulents are able to thrive off of that casual neglect! They are super resilient and that’s crucial.
I saved a few plants from the basement of Canal Street Market when I was there — they had seen no sun or water for months. One of the succulents just grew new petals this weekend and I was overjoyed that I was able to love it back into living! I think plants across the board fill this human desire to nurture life; who doesn’t like watching something grow? (Bonus points if it doesn’t have audible cries!)
GP: Do you get positive responses at the Greenpointers markets? Are you looking forward to the next one?
I love doing the Greenpointers markets! They are probably my favorite ones to be a vendor at — the turnout and response is always wonderful. I’ve met lots of other Greenpoint residents and neighbors doing them as well. The Greenpointers market was the first place I brought all my boxes of pottery into the light; I remember siting behind the table hoping that someone would buy something. I never thought it would be a huge success and I never thought I’d be here today still doing them! I am super grateful for everyone that has come by and supported me in that environment.
GP: What’s it like to be an artist in the Instagram era? Do you see it as a benefit or hindrance?
Unfortunately, Instagram is really useful. This is a conflicting topic for me! I am grateful to Instagram for the exposure and connections it has given me. I’m not one to boast my own work, so it’s been a fairly passive way for me to get out there. I’ve received multiple wholesale orders through Instagram and sold many pieces. Its no doubt a valuable platform. It also allows you to see what hundreds (if not thousands) of people are making at any given time. We have historically never had that type of information at our fingertips. It makes the world a lot smaller when you can access makers from the other side of the world. This wealth of content also makes you realize that maybe nothing is purely original and that we will always stand on the shoulders of those before and around us for progress.
That being said, it does feel like an information overload sometimes when you scroll through your feed. For this reason, I keep my personal Instagram free from all businesses and companies, so I can focus on people and not products!
About Billy McEntee
Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Indiewire, HowlRound, Eclectica Magazine, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.