I sat down with Rita and chatted with her about her journey, her daily meditation practice and what these precious chiminea’s mean to her. Please enjoy our conversation.
You mentioned the creation of your chiminea came through a personal want for your own mediation practice. Tell me more about this. How did you discover the chiminea? Where did you go from there?
At the center where I go for retreat and practice in the mountains of Tehachapi, there is a daily “smoke offering on the mountain” where a large “Sang Khang” –Tibetan for chiminea–is loaded with dried branches that have fallen from the tall pines. The fire is set, and then once these have burned down, green sprigs of fir and incense gathered from the local trees and shrubs is added to create an aromatic smoke. This smoke is blessed and becomes an expression of gratitude and compassion. Naturally I wanted a sang khang for my home practice but most that were commercially available were much too big and would not be appropriate for the already polluted city. I searched in vain for one that would be small enough, so I decided I would make one. This led to my taking a class at a local pottery studio and I fell in love with working in clay. I still use the very first sang khang I made by watching many YouTube videos and rolling out coils of clay.
I loved exploring and creating this little hut that truly sets my heart on fire. We both fell in love with this Red Terra-Cotta Clay that we used. I know it was your first time working with it. How was that process?
I used to work exclusively in stoneware clays that undergo very high temperature firing, because the community studio where I was working only offered stoneware clay firing. But my studio underwent a change of ownership (now it is Green and Bisque Clay House in Pasadena) and started offering more “mid-range” firing clays. This clay, Terra Red, was one of them. It is smooth and easy to throw and work with, but it has this interesting quality of retaining every touch mark into the final firing, which gives it an unusual, variegated surface design–the process of forming is written on the surface of the clay–and I do love process.
If you could meditate anywhere in the world, where would that be?
The Ari Bhöd Center in Tehachapi is a very special retreat place that is easy to get to and is a home away from home for me.
What type of meditation do you practice?
Since 2009 I’ve been practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which has many beautiful rituals.
What do you burn in your Chiminea? Is there something specific that you find burns the best?
I use Nepalese, Bhutanese or Tibetan incense that is specifically for the meditation practices and is specially formulated from plants that grow in the Himalayas, often near places where great masters of meditation had their retreat caves. As a “bed” for the incense I use apple chips like what you’d get for the barbeque. But you can also put some rice in the bottom and stand up a half stick of incense.
How do you incorporate nature into your life? What does it mean to you?
Nature is everything! I live in the middle of the city but my studio opens to my lovely unkempt garden that hosts a huge variety of wildlife, native California plants and many fruit trees.
How do you rest and recharge?
Sleep, pulling weeds and puttering in the garden, making objects with clay, long retreats.
How do you start your day?
I start by saying a Tibetan Buddhist prayer that reminds me life is like a dream.
Do you have a favorite ritual?
What brings you joy?
Knowing how easy it is for people to be happy with a little love.
Where is home to you?
The east side of L.A.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I love to explore ceramic history ancient and modern; I look at the forms of trees and stones.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
Ratatouille and polenta(my roots are Mediterranean/Italian)
I’m really into these canned fizzy waters, though it could be the pop top sound of opening them.
What is your favorite restaurant in Los Angeles?
Too hard! There are so many great ones. The pizza at Gra (on Glendale Blvd in DTLA/Echo Park) is unmatched anywhere–even NYC–which my Brooklynite daughter admitted to. But I am partial to vegan/vegetarian cooking that is artfully done.
What’s your secret to feeling your vibrant, healthiest self?
Iyengar Yoga–but any kind of Hatha yoga is essential for both physical and mental health.
What is your favorite scent? Where does it take you?
Well, don’t tell my Buddhist friends, but I love Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumerie (translates as “Road of Hell) and it takes me into a warm zone of comfort and mystery. I’m getting more into Ouds and Sandalwoods–but scents are an amazing world with their own language that is still something I am learning.
What is your most loved object in your home?
My dishwasher! No–I do love a photo taken of my daughter by Aura Rosenberg, where a painted keyhole is framing her eye.
What’s your favorite place on Earth?
Hands down Big Sur. Then maybe Stromboli, an island near Sicily with a volcano.
What’s your favorite color? How does it make you feel?
Red for sure, because it’s exciting when it’s bright and comforting when it’s dark.
Finally, how do you see Iron Hare Clayworks expanding & evolving in the future? What are you most looking forward to? Is there anything we should keep an eye out for?
Iron Hare Clayworks is still a group of ideas in development. I have a few lines of “inquiry”: the sang khang design exploration is only one but seems endless and has lots of meaning for me because of how the elements (earth, water, air, fire) interplay and how we have this fascination with fire, fearing it, needing to tame it… the hearth being the heart of the home.
I love working collaboratively and I have always been more a designer than a craftsman, so design will always be a big part of what I do.