My first encounter with Jeremy Ogusky was through a flyer at City Feed and Supply announcing a fermentation workshop. Then I started to see his work casually appearing everywhere, postcards at Sherman Market here, a random Instagram feed on a random website (which I the instantly followed) there. The beautiful ceramic crocks caught my eye, and their dedicated use-fermentation adds a functionality to the beauty.
This is not just art for art’s sake, it’s art with purpose. A swoon-worthy chef’s tool. A homesteader’s prize piece. A resurgence of craft.
Ogusky invited me to his Needham studio, tucked into a small corner of what was once the knitting mills of Needham. The smell of freshly cut wood from the gallery shelves mingles with the deep, earthy aroma of clay. A small kiln rests in the back, propped slightly open to reveal a handful of finished pieces cooling. Half of them are Ogusky’s current experiments—two watering towers for chickens and a tall piece, which he intends to use for fish sauce. He talks about his ideas for creating pieces with air locks, and I imagine bubbly ginger libations and real root beer sodas.
“My goal is to create work that’s relevant, stuff people appreciate. Craft is art that’s utilitarian, it has value,” Ogusky elaborates on the way his work incurs that value over time.
Every culture created in his crocks, most aptly labeled “Ferment” and “Foment” on either side, are perfect for all kinds of vegetable ferments—ginger carrots, Korean kimchi, dill pickles, and Ogusky’s favorite, classic sauerkraut.
Ogusky’s one-of-a-kind pieces are designed precisely for their use, more appealing than the usual choice of pickling containers. They can hold a household gallon of kraut, and come equipped with a special top that fits inside the body to weigh down the veggies, keeping them safely under their pickling liquid. No longer must I struggle with finding something that fits into the mouth of my mason jars just so; I fill that jar with water and balance it on top of the perfect pickling lid.
This is the kind of creativity that people enjoyed from handmade wares only 150 years ago. Just as mass production has desecrated fermented foods benefits—beneficial bacteria, oodles of vitamins, and flavors unique to every batch—pottery standardized too. Local labor stations transformed into efficient juggernauts that lack the heart and soul translated from a potter’s hands to his piece.
Ogusky’s work is a welcome relief from such monotony.
His pieces are made in small batches, like microbrew beers and artisan cheeses, beautiful series that inspire and add to the home.
“In high school my art teacher invited a Korean master potter to class. He couldn’t speak English very well, but I watched him work and was enthralled. I went to class the next day and sat down to throw.”
That was 20 years ago, and for a long time Ogusky only worked on pottery in his spare time, studying on the weekends in South Africa and Ecuador while doing public health work.
Four years ago he decided to plunge into it full time. Now, he attends craft shows from the high end to the teeny tiny.
When we spoke he had just returned from the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) conference. He works with companies like Real Pickles, City Feed, Tres Gatos, Relish, and Williams-Sonoma, finding an audience for his pieces as the appreciation for quality work and the popularity of fermented foods gradually blossoms. He’s even organizing the Fermentation Festival in Jamaica Plain, at the Egleston Square Farmers Market September 28. It will include workshops and hands-on demos, lectures, and tastings, of course. It’s this entrepreneurial spirit that is spreading his mark on Boston, rising slowly like the water out of salted, pressed cabbage.
“Being an entrepreneur is just as vital as the making of the work. It informs the work.” He tells me that this, more than style, is what he gained from his experience traveling and learning with other potters. He confides that his latest desire is to collaborate with other chefs, to learn what they need and create pieces that make sense for their work.
BOSTON FERMENTATION FESTIVAL
EGLESTON SQUARE FARMERS MARKET
45 BROOKSIDE AVE., JAMAICA PLAIN