Interactive artist

Building a design store―and a community

"My parents used to joke that I was the only child they didn't worry about when I was quiet," says Sherry Olsen. "I'd be playing around and cooking in the kitchen and my grandmother would laugh and say, 'Oh yes, Sherry's definitely an artist. She's making green oatmeal!'"

Now best known for her graphic porcelain tableware and rustic hand-painted stoneware―yes, some in shades of green―Olsen is still playing around with different media. Visit her sunny Berkeley shop to see large-scale silk-screened prints and a one-of-a-kind white silk dress with a hand-painted botanical pattern. She's even done designs on chocolate in conjunction with chocolatier Michael Recchiuti.

Family members have been frequent collaborators as well: Olsen's dishes and tableware are laid out on hand-hewn tables built by her late father, a carpenter. His rough, honey-colored wood squares suit the twig and swirl shapes on Olsen's bowls and platters. And her mother adds colorful, delicate collages on top of Olsen's recycled-paper greeting cards.

This past spring, Olsen went in for the ultimate collaborative effort, inviting a handful of other artists―including a jewelry designer, an industrial designer, and a paper artist―to form a co-op at her store. The teamwork, she finds, fuels everyone's creative spirit. "When I was younger, I thought being an artist was like Vincent van Gogh―that it was all tragic and alone ... But we're all very for each other. We're always bringing each other magazines and ideas for things to make or ways to reach more people with the shop. I've been super grateful for that."

So what's the common denominator? "I just want things to have that handcrafted feeling. I want people to get inspired here―to go home and want to make something." For more of Sherry Olsen's dishes, see Get the Look. ―Abigail Peterson

INFO: SO Shop (11-6 Wed-Sun and by appointment; 3167 College Ave., Berkeley; www.sherryolsen.net or 510/923-0362)