What’s Jewish About… Designer Jonathan Adler?
What's Jewish About...Opinion

What’s Jewish About… Designer Jonathan Adler?

Jonathan Adler is an internationally renowned potter, designer and author. Known for his vibrant, dynamic interiors, he also lives by his motto: “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.”

Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to www.robynspizman.com.

Jonathan Adler // Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler // Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler

Jonathan Adler is an internationally renowned potter, designer and author. Known for his vibrant, dynamic interiors, he also lives by his motto: “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.”

Jonathan, tell us about your family and growing up Jewish.
Oy vey, not sure where to begin! I didn’t have a typical Jewish upbringing. I am from a small farm town in southern New Jersey that was very remote (3 hours from New York City, 1 hour from a highway!) and very poor. My great grandparents moved there to escape the pogroms and became egg farmers. The town was settled by Baron de Hirsch in Garton Road as part of a charitable program to help Jewish refugees.

The first thing they did was to build a one-room shul in the middle of a field, the Garton Road Shul, which is still there today. My grandfather became a lawyer, a judge and my dad was a precociously smart guy who went to the University of Chicago with a group of Jewish intellectuals like Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Susan Sontag.

Then law school and back to his hometown with my poor, unsuspecting mother in tow. She was a Wellesley girl working at Vogue. They met, married and embarked on a total Green Acres lifestyle. We were hilariously out of place.

Did you have a bar mitzvah and, if so, what was your favorite memory?
Of course, I had a bar mitzvah and the theme, or lack thereof, is one of the greatest regrets of my life. I was bar mitzvah’d in 1979 and, ever the trend hunter, I gleaned that the preppy craze was on the horizon and opted for a very subdued and preppy bar mitzvah. I chose chic over fun and that’s not a good thing to do.

Where did you go to college, learn your trade, etc.?
I fell in love with pottery at summer camp when I was 12 and that was pretty much it. Love at first sight. I went to Brown for college and took pottery classes at RISD and am mostly just self-taught. I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I never thought a career as a potter was feasible, so I tried to work in the movie biz after college.

My unemployment continued, as did my passion for pottery, and my parents threatened to stop paying my bills (of course they were right!). I called up Barneys, got an order and built a small business. I’ve been at it now for almost 30 years and I’ve kinda just figured it out. No plans, zero business acumen, no nothing.

Jonathan Adler // Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler

As a popular designer and artist, how do you describe your style? Modern American Glamour?
My work is modern in that I strive to create pieces and spaces that feel new and fresh and original. I work in an American idiom in that my work usually has an optimistic vibe, which is what America is all about to me — and grounded in an American design tradition — and last and most, GLAMOUR. I would say that glamour is about swagger. It’s about being confident and bold and a little sexy and, most of all, memorable. So, yeah, Modern American Glamour. C’est moi!

Tell us about your Judaica items and what they mean to you and your collection. What inspired you to create those?
Judaica was a must. I make mezuzahs and seder plates and menorahs and am always trying to expand my Judaica offerings. Judaica needs to be functional but can be very expressive and abstract. I am particularly smitten with the organic modernism of Reform synagogue architecture and I have done several collections of pots and furniture inspired by the vibe of postwar Reform synagogues (though I was raised Conservative).

What’s your best piece of business advice to anyone who wants to succeed in a creative business?
Your own time is the most affordable and available resource you have so be prepared to work tirelessly.

What is your all-time favorite Jewish food? The best Chanukah gift you received?
As a kid I absolutely loved sautéed chicken liver and I hadn’t had it in years and thought to myself one day, “I need to make chicken liver.” I always imagined it was a priceless delicacy. But I got to the supermarket and discovered that chicken liver costs about 37 cents. But my god do I love it. As for Chanukah gifts, I always give my mother a new piece of pottery every year. The poor thing is forced to live like a hoarder.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I am a stone-cold Philadelphia Eagles fan. My motto was always, “one before I die,” so the day the Eagles finally won the Super Bowl in 2018 might have been the happiest day of my life.

Find Adler online at www.jonathanadler.com and on social media @jonathanadler.

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