In Barryville, you’ll find a ceramicist who traveled far to land there, and brought with her a worldview that informs her work. Nonna Hall handcrafts pieces that architects, interior designers, and civilian shoppers clamor for. Sturdy mugs, attention-grabbing vases, and nesting bowls—you can see it all at Nonneta and Friends Creative, the studio where she works, runs classes, and gives other artists a leg up.
Her striking creations reflect her own eclectic background. Hall spent her early childhood in Turkmenistan, and then moved with her family to Russia when she was eight. As a young woman in Moscow, she met an American who worked in publishing; they married and moved to Texas, then Florida. When her husband, Jeff, got a job offer in New York in 2005, the couple pulled up stakes again and moved to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
For years, Hall worked in banking, but it wasn’t her dream job. “I had a love for ceramics, and ever since I was young, I wanted to be able to try to make it,” she says. “In Turkmenistan, teaware was part of my childhood, and I was fascinated by the Central Asian styles we used—our teacups were like little bowls. In Russia, the teacups were more like the ones they have in England.” Most of all, she appreciated the beauty of artisan ceramics. “When we bought handmade pieces, we’d display them and use them for special occasions.”
In Manhattan, Hall found a studio that offered everything she needed: pottery wheels, clay, and expert instruction. “When I began, I fell in love and didn’t want to stop,” she recalls. “I wanted to create something that would be mine, that reflected my memories of all the different styles of ceramics I had seen.” What emerged were works that would soon mark her distinctive style: “I would describe my pieces as modern, but elegant,” she says. Inspired by ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian designs, they are a delightful fusion of the past and present.
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Hall was also crafting a new life path. The studio owners were so impressed by her talent that two years later, they invited her to become a part-time instructor. And then, when the 2008 banking crisis sent the financial industry reeling, Hall decided to leave the field. “The stress of the crisis was really intense, and I always knew the bank wasn’t my passion,” she explains. She then joined a friend’s studio in Gowanus.
So, how did the Catskills shake up the picture? Serendipitously. In 2015, Hall and her husband gave friends a lift to Sullivan County. What they saw there enraptured them. “We had no idea there’s such beauty around the Delaware River,” she says. They decided to buy a house and live there full time. Jeff, who by now worked in advertising, commuted to Manhattan, and then became a freelancer during the pandemic.
Hall, too, initially worked from home, creating pottery and giving lessons. Soon, though, she realized it wasn’t ideal. After searching around, she found the Barryville locale and launched Nonneta and Friends Creative, a pottery studio, art gallery, and gift shop. Hall sells some of her pieces there—her brand is Nonneta’s Keramika by Nonna Hall—as well as online at nonnahall.com. In the past, she has also offered instruction at the studio. Group classes are on hold for now as she focuses on her own work, but she hopes to bring them back later this year.
Hall’s pieces don’t just sell locally; they can be found in stores throughout the Hudson Valley, New York City, and California, and she has a wholesale business as well. In addition, friends have introduced her to designers and architects who order custom vases, candle holders, and other pieces to adorn the spaces they create. Hall, in turn, hopes to pay these referrals forward by helping other artists. Her store includes a gallery where she displays her friends’ work alongside her own. “One of my dreams was always to create a space to showcase their creations,” she says. “I know how difficult it is for them to apply to certain galleries.”
As she helps the artists she admires, Hall continues to pursue her own love for ceramics. And she hopes people see that love in everything she makes. “I want to create things that are beautiful but also functional. I want those dishes I make to be used,” she insists. “I try to make people’s lives special every day.”