Bret Bortner Design History
While working as a model-maker at Haeger Potteries in the mid seventies, Bob O'Niel of O'Niel Design, Ltd. asked me to work with him designing a variety of items for Nelson McCoy Pottery of Ohio. Over the next few years, we created a number of successful items and collections for Nelson McCoy.
Working with Bob O'Niel, a true mentor, gave me the confidence to pursue my own design / manufacturing career. In 1982, I began my pottery business in my garage in Dundee, Illinois. It was established when the buyer at Crate & Barrel ordered 288 of my Terra Cotta Candle Lamps. Over the next eight months we sold over 7,000 candle lamps.
With the help of two home-workers, we met the demand and in early 1983 I moved the pottery from my garage to factory space in Elgin, Illinois. Over the next twenty years, with the invaluable help of many wonderful employees, I designed and produced a variety of lines beginning with my first collection: Terra Cotta. The items were for use as cookware and serveware and, over 20 years, the line evolved into the 22 pieces you see here.
In the late 1980's I became increasingly fascinated with the pottery of the Arts & Crafts Movement of a hundred years earlier. After researching the Movement, I designed a collection of seven Vases each of which pays tribute to one of the seven Art Potteries I believe to be the most important of the era. The creation of this special line required the development of a palette of matte glazes true to the colors of the Movement. In addition, I wrote a short history (included with each vase) of the Movement and the seven potteries. The line was introduced in 1991.
I had, for many years, admired good Asian design. In 1992, while taking a class in Raku (a technique and style of pottery developed in Japan hundreds of years ago), I learned of the two Zen aesthetics of Wabi and Sabi. The two aesthetics defined for me a beauty that I had always responded to but had never before been able to put into words. I knew that at some point in time I would incorporate the theme of the two aesthetics into a collection of pottery. That collection came together in 1996 with the design and introduction of my Wabi-Sabi stoneware.
The last collection I produced (introduced in 1999) was Shibui. Shibui is an aesthetic that describes things that are balanced, understated, not flashy or flamboyant, and yet not somber or dull. The collection consisted of a variety of items, both functional and decorative, in a satin matte black glaze. The glaze accentuated what I have always worked to achieve in my designs: reducing each piece to its essence (the cleanest lines, the simplest form, in balance with its function).
By the year 2000, it became increasingly clear that I could no longer compete with off-shore imports, and at the end of 2001, I closed my production facility in Elgin, Illinois and began designing for B.I.A. Cordon Bleu of San Francisco.