Home Decor

One Fine Clay

Meet ceramic artist Chentell Stiritz and learn what inspires her Convivial Production line of dinnerware and home décor pieces.

Chentell Stiritz hasn’t been in Kansas City for long, but she’s already made quite the impression thanks to her handcrafted dinnerware and décor pieces, sold at West Elm on the Country Club Plaza, The Coveted Home, Crossroads boutique Future and pop-up shops around town as well as on Etsy. Stiritz, who studied community art before falling in love with design, credits her rapidly rising profile to a simple piece of advice from a professor: “Say yes to everything.”

Photo by Zach Bauman

Q. How did you become interested in ceramics?

A. It’s crazy to say at age 23 that I have been working on a single trade for nine years and counting. I check that fact over and over in disbelief, but alas, it’s true! My work as a ceramic artist has been long coming and it is one I have big plans to develop as the future unfolds. My exposure to clay began as a high school freshman. My eldest sister found the medium interesting and of course, as most baby sisters do, I decided it best to make her interest one of my own. My teacher at the time took interest and believed in my work. He encouraged me to continue, so I did. Each semester I designed an independent study course that allowed me to develop my work. Naturally, as senior year approached I knew I would continue. I knew my work as an artist would be a career, and I looked specifically at programs that would prepare me well.

Q. Where did you learn how to create your pieces?

A. I attended Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school in Chicago. Looking hard to find a program that would offer courses in art therapy (my interest at the time), I stumbled across Wheaton’s Community Art & Missions program and was fascinated. I enrolled and turned my study into an interdisciplinary major that paired with Urban Studies and Ceramics. It was here that I took the development of technique seriously and asked for critiques at every opportunity. I relentlessly bugged my professors for feedback, and I never ceased to run with the advice they gave.

Among designer Chentelle Stiritz’s favorite projects? Crafting 150 dinner and dessert plates and driving them from Kansas City to Minneapolis so they could be used at the wedding reception of a couple she met in college. Photo by Zach Bauman

Q. How has art been beneficial for you?

A. Out of high school I was very passionate about the idea of art therapy, which is what ultimately lead me to community art. My family and I had a handful of difficulties thrown at us during my childhood. Over the span of just a few years we experienced several divorces, instances of physical and emotional abuse as well as continual financial and living instability. There is no doubt that these experiences drove me to utilize art as a form of expression and release. I knew this to be true for myself and I could see my peers doing it as well. Graduating high school, I wanted to explore the various ways art could be used to serve individuals and communities.

This passion still remains in a lot of my work, though you may not necessarily see it from the outside in. Through my time studying community art I found my interest leading me in an unconventional direction. I found myself more interested in working as a designer.

Using clean, structural lines inspired by architecture and patterns, Stiritz creates pieces ranging from dinnerware and planters to vases and votive holders in the hope that they inspire and help people to host well. Photo by Zach Bauman

Q. When and how did you decide to turn your creative passion into a full-time job?

A. I started a company! Convivial Production is a small batch production company that specializes in home décor and dinnerware products. CP launched early spring of 2014 and it became an official incorporation eight months later in the fall. For the past year and a half I’ve worked relentlessly to develop the backbone of the company and now my work is focusing on making, selling and distributing the first line of products. It’s interesting because people always speak of my work as if it was a hobby that magically developed into a business, but this is far from the truth. I always knew I would create a career as an artist and looking back I think this assurance is what enabled me to move forward with this company with true direction. I took the jump, leaving my part-time job this past October, and I couldn’t imagine working any other way.

Q. Where did you come up with the name Convivial Production?

A. So conviviality, if you are unfamiliar with the term, means “the joining together of people to eat, to drink, and to be well with one another.” I came across this concept in college and was reminded of it by my fiancé when we were brainstorming company names. All of the products within CP are designed with the intention of setting the scene for conviviality. They are the plate and cup that is so essential for hosting and the surrounding décor that makes a space feel set and inviting. The vision with CP is that through our products we will continually inspire and enable individuals to host well—to gather, commune, and to be well with each other.

Q. What inspires your work?

A. Hospitality. I am a hostess and I will always be. It’s in my being and the reason I create as I do. That being said, I think this characteristic gives me a unique insight into the things that are needed to host well. My work starts with this vision. Next, when considering design and aesthetics I look to architectural structures and patterns that surround me. I constantly find myself inspired by the clean, structural lines that create our homes and cities and I want my work to reference these traits.

Although Convivial Production is carried in several area stores, Stiritz says she spends very little time researching and contacting retailers. Instead, most have discovered her work through social media or pop-up sales.

Q. Your pieces are not only beautiful, but they’re also practical. Is there a reason you decided to do dinnerware, vases and votive holders instead of purely decorative pieces?

A. Yes, definitely. While I love to create decorative items that set the scene, an irreplaceable part of my vision with CP is to create products that inspire and enable individuals to host and connect with one another. The biggest way I see this happening in our society is through dining. Whether it is the joining of your family at the end of the day or the occasional feast with friends, having a table that everyone can sit around truly enables individuals to stop their daily tasks and simply be with one another. My hope is to create the needed items to make dining possible—the plate, the cup, the serving dish—and to do so beautifully.