Perfect Imperfection

Perfect Imperfection


Ceramicist Rae Dunn lets a line of mugs, bowls, and plates speak with a single word.

Rae Dunn leaves an imprint on her functional art.

Back in 1993, when the trend in ceramics was to create flawless, symmetrical pieces, Rae Dunn became enamored with clay for a very different reason: She fell in love with leaving her finger marks on her work. “I’ve always loved imperfect things: old, rusty things, faded, broken things,” said Dunn, whose passion for art has led her to work in graphic design, fashion, fine art, and books. But clay was the medium that satisfied her infatuation with the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in the imperfect. Today, Dunn has mastered the art of imperfection, and the result is inspirational.

Dunn’s handmade line of mugs, bowls, and plates juxtaposes the characteristic marks of human hands with the simplicity of her minimalist designs. Many of her pieces are stamped with a single word or iconic image that somehow evokes undeniable feelings of joy. “I think one word can be more powerful than a sentence,” said Dunn. A cup stamped with “Nourish” or a plate engraved with “Become” graces its user with something more than just food and drink: It suddenly holds possibility.

In addition to the cups and plates, which range from $15 to $75 depending on size and style, popular items include the adorable handmade salt and pepper cellars for $48 and, my personal favorite, chalkboard nesting ramekins ($24 for set of three) from her Magenta line. At the moment, Dunn’s heart is in her “fine art”—large, one-of-a-kind sculptural vessels that start at $1,000. Dunn is happy to customize pieces to fit any special occasion. She plans to add linen aprons and napkins in the style of her most popular dinnerware.

While all of Dunn’s handmade work is created in her Berkeley studio, she also has a manufactured line through Magenta (, which distributes her designs to boutiques nationwide. Handmade pieces can be purchased on Dunn’s website or by appointment. Bay Area folks who catch Dunn in her studio can stop in and shop in person, particularly during Dec. 10 and 11 at Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios. There’s nothing like finding the perfect piece of imperfection. 927 Parker St., Berkeley,  415-515-9062,


Published online on Nov. 16, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

Faces of the East Bay