Why profile a ceramicist on an all-yogurt site? Because Jeremy Ogusky is the craftsman behind our co-branded Team Yogurt | Ogusky Ceramics Yogurt Bowls, currently available in our shop. Understanding a bit more about him may inspire you the way he and his work have inspired me. ~ Cheryl Sternman Rule, Founder, Team Yogurt
Jeremy Ogusky is a Boston-based potter who makes handcrafted bowls, mugs, plates, and fermentation crocks from his home studio in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. But he didn’t start his career as a professional potter.
In the Beginning, a Deep Interest in Health
Raised in Detroit, Ogusky completed his undergrad work at Michigan State, then earned a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University.
“When I used to think of ‘health’ I thought of medicine, because that’s just what I knew. But one day my dad took me to meet a distant cousin who was a public health practitioner. I’d never heard of ‘public health’ before.” Ogusky was intrigued.
Soon, his interests catalyzed around the concept of ‘population health,’ the idea of working towards large-scale change to improve not simply the health of individuals but of entire communities.
Master’s degree in hand, he applied to the Peace Corps, eager to put his graduate degree to practical use. He accepted a position in Lesotho, a small country bordering South Africa on all sides. The size of Maryland with a population just over two million, Lesotho became Ogusky’s home from 2002 to 2004 while he worked on HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives with local government officials.
“At that time,” Ogusky recalls, “mortality was really starting to peak. People were very sick and dying.” HIV and AIDS were “touching all different kinds of people throughout the country. Teachers, taxi drivers, young people, old people, government workers… they were all getting sick. In 2002, there were no doctors doing anti-retroviral treatment. There was testing, but it was limited, and the stigma was really high.”
He continues: “Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were living with HIV/AIDS, very few people were public about their status. My primary job was working with the local government to help build capacity and support local ministries to prevent and fight HIV/AIDS.”
By the time he left in 2004, things had improved slightly thanks, in large part, to a new treatment clinic sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. Even today, Lesotho still has over 300,000 adults and children living with HIV/AIDS.
A New Continent
During his Peace Corps years, Ogusky met Siiri Morley, a fellow volunteer, and the two began dating. (They’ve since gotten married.) They stayed in Africa after their Peace Corps service ended. Then, the two relocated to South America, where they settled in Cuenca, Ecuador, for two more years, this time as college teachers. “It was the perfect thing for us to do between southern Africa and returning to the U.S.,” Ogusky says.
Ogusky remained focused on public health both in Ecuador and, later, when the pair moved to Washington, DC. “Siiri worked for a large international development contractor, and I worked for a local community-based nonprofit that did HIV/AIDS prevention.”
When Morley was accepted to a graduate program at Brandeis, the couple moved to the Boston area. Ogusky took a job at Harvard’s Institute for Global Health, but after a year, things changed.
Fully Embracing a Long-Term Love
Despite Ogusky’s consistent work in the public health sphere and deep, authentic interest in that field, he’d long been drawn to clay and found a way to integrate this hobby into his life.
Ogusky had taken a pottery class in high school, in college he was a member of a ceramics community, and even in Ecuador, he’d apprenticed with a third-generation potter. That said, his pursuit of the art always had always taken a backseat to other, more pressing commitments.
“I’d never considered becoming a potter,” he admits. “I always thought I’d remain a hobbyist.”
A year into his job at Harvard, in 2009, Ogusky was let go. And to paraphrase a common saying, when that door closed, a window opened. Wide.
“When I lost my job, my wife really encouraged me to think about ceramics and to take a class at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on the coast of Maine. It was really beautiful. And even though the two-week class was for professional studio potters, I realized there really wasn’t a secret to becoming a professional potter.”
Ogusky returned from the course re-energized. Seeing this change, his wife encouraged him to make his passion a full-time career.
Life as a Studio Potter
Ogusky spent the next three years at a cooperative studio, renting a 10’ by 10’ space and time at the potter’s wheel. He landed a contract creating fermentation crocks for Williams-Sonoma, bought his own wheel, and eventually moved into a rental space all his own.
Last summer, he and Siiri bought their first home, and Ogusky went all in: He outfitted their basement as his new, full-time potter’s studio. “It’s just me,” he says simply.
But he hardly works as a soloist. Ogusky is a team player in the grandest sense of the term.
A few years ago, he spearheaded the Boston Fermentation Festival, a full day of talks, demonstrations, and culture-swapping (think kefir grains, sourdough mothers, heirloom yogurt cultures) relating to fermentation, that ancient culinary form that has seen a huge renaissance in recent years. It’s an outgrowth of Boston Ferments, an all-volunteer collective that Ogusky helped found.
The Beauty of Collaboration
Collaboration is its own art form, in a way, and its own way of looking at the world. Jeremy Ogusky is a true collaborator, whether working with colleagues in Lesotho, Ecuador, and Washington, DC, with fellow fermenting die-hards in Boston, or with the chefs who commission his beautiful pottery.
|| Top Photograph © Patrick Daly Photography ||
|| Bottom Photograph © Brian Samuels Photography ||