WHEN SHE MOVED to the neighborhood six years ago, Kristen van Diggelen was an aspiring art student who had her sights set on a career as a painter.
One day she wandered into Cottage Industry, the eclectic emporium at 2328 Fillmore, seeking inspiration. But she found far more. The building, with two street-level storefronts and four flats above, is one of the more artistically historic structures in the city, having been home to many of the Bay Area’s best-known artists and poets of the Beat generation in the 1950s and ’60s.
She found not only subjects to paint and an artistic legacy, but also an apartment and a studio — and even an opportunity to be something of a saloniste for a couple of years in one of the vacant shops, where she held monthly gatherings to show her work and that of other emerging artists.
She found opportunities she was seeking and some she never dreamed of. But like many artistic pursuits, they didn’t pay very well. So after she graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a master of fine arts degree, she began teaching a high school ceramics class at Cornerstone Academy in 2010.
“Ceramics was one of the highlights of my arts education,” she says, “but I went to graduate school on a painting scholarship, so I felt like everything else had to take a back seat.”
Then when she found herself around clay again, her old flame flickered anew.
“I think I was just as excited for that class each day as the students were,” she says.
In addition to teaching, she began creating custom ceramic vessels for friends and family members who commissioned her to make personalized gifts. And gradually she realized that yet another artistic opportunity was presenting itself.
“Starting my own creative business was something I was really excited about,” she says. “I realized there is a demand for locally made objects that are unique and personal.”
Now she has created vanIvey Ceramics, a line of tableware crafted entirely by hand in her San Francisco workshop.
“It has been a crash course in online marketing, website building, branding, production operations — entrepreneurship in general,” she says. “The long hours and constant problem solving to get vanIvey going has been grueling, but I am ecstatic to be doing it full time now.”
She offers several options, from the simple clean lines of her Market Collection to the delicately ornamented Yerba Buena Collection and the blue-and-white glazed Laurel Collection. She also creates custom pieces that can include hand painting, stamped monograms, coats of arms or other personal images.
She sees it as a mission. “I believe in consuming fewer things of greater quality that are made locally and beautifully,” she says.
“There are many American companies making dishes that look handmade, but the majority are mass-produced overseas,” she says. “Our dishes are made by human hands in San Francisco, and we want to keep it that way.”
Both rustic and refined, each piece of her work is made either on the potter’s wheel or using a mold system she developed to replicate designs without losing the personal touch. Molds are both sculpted by hand and cast from antiques. Dishes are made from either white or brown clay. White glazing highlights the designs and the irregularities that make the ceramics handmade works of art.
“No two vessels are alike,” she says.
The work is available at vanivey.com. She is also collaborating with BiRite’s nonprofit, 18 Reasons, and will participate in the Renegade Craft Fair at the San Francisco Concourse on December 21 and 22.
Next year she plans to open her studio one weekend each month, just as she once held monthly exhibitions at 2326 Fillmore in the storefront now occupied by Peruvian Connection. Now her studio is in the Bayview District, but she still lives on Fillmore Street in what was once the home of well-known artist Joan Brown, next door to the flat where painter Jay DeFeo created her masterpiece, The Rose.
“Painting — my great love, which I still do at least one day a week — will always be integral to my artistic expression,” she says. “But I am absolutely thrilled to be running my own business.”