Neena Jhaveri Ceramics at Monticello: A Flourishing Partnership

Established in 1986, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants is home to a spectacular collection of historic and native botanical species growing in a beautiful garden setting at Monticello’s Tufton Farm. Inherent in the CHP mission is the goal of promoting greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants.

Floral fossil potter Neena Jhaveri began incorporating flora from the CHP gardens into her ceramic work some sixteen years ago, after meeting a fellow Virginian (and Monticello employee) by chance at an art expo held across the country. And for the past six years, CHP’s Operations Coordinator and Seed Program Lead, Lily Fox-Bruguiere, has been carefully clipping and shipping her top picks weekly to the artist’s studio, where Jhaveri creates an exclusive collection of magnificent plates, platters, bowls and tiles which are displayed and sold in the Shop at Monticello and online.

We recently spoke with the artist about her background in ceramics and lifelong love of fossils.

Neena, how did you get started creating “floral fossil pottery?”

I am an artist and a gardener who became a potter. My fascination of clay with different forms has always been there. It started when my daughter took a summer pottery class that she really enjoyed. I  decided to take classes at the same location and discovered a technique called “hand building.” This opened my imagination to incorporate botanicals from my garden into my pottery.  And since I have always loved the look of fossils, I tried several trial and errors with some very good teachers. This artistic journey began almost 22 years ago and here we are – creations that glorify nature.

How did your partnership with Monticello begin?

In (I believe) 2005, I attended a MSA expo in Denver, Colorado with our local museum buyer to scope the show for future participation. Our buyer wore one of my fossilized necklaces, which she showed to a then-Monticello product development employee. The woman was intrigued and had an idea to make custom pottery tiles that included Monticello pressed flowers. I began collaborating, developed several samples and submitted these for approval.

A selection of Neena Jhaveri’s floral fossil pottery, available in the Shop at Monticello.

We began together with a small trial order. As soon as the pieces reached The Shop, Monticello employees bought every tile! The order requests increased and continue to grow today. Over the years, we’ve done trunk shows together and I have participated in numerous Monticello events to promote the floral fossil pottery.

Today, Monticello sells a special collection of my work that incorporates flowers and foliage that they gather for me from the Center for Historic Plants. I have enjoyed meeting their talented gardeners and connecting with the world of historic plants.

Monticello’s Lily Fox-Bruguiere harvesting Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), a summer-blooming, native perennial phlox.

How do you receive the plant material from Monticello?

We get fresh flowers and foliage from Monticello every week. Lily Fox-Bruguiere harvests around ten different varieties at their peak, then places them in a large plastic bag with moist paper towels to keep everything fresh. These are shipped to our studio to arrive next day. When they arrive, it’s like Christmas! We open the containers and begin creating different pieces that we provide to Monticello.

Each flower, herb and leaf speaks for itself – there is no planned design. Their beauty does all the work;  my job is to arrange the colors, patterns and shapes into harmonious, functional objects so people can enjoy the exceptional beauty of nature while using the pieces.

Long-blooming, native Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). A favorite of bumblebees and other pollinators.
Anise Hyssop floral fossil tile.

Tell us about your background.

I am an artist by profession. I studied and trained at an art college in India. Today, I create all of my pieces in my studio located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

And let’s end with a lesson about the process and techniques you use to create these incredible pieces.

Fresh flowers, herbs, and leaves are pressed into clay while forming the shape of each piece, then left to dry. Each piece is made by hand, built one at a time. It takes between three to four days for an item to dry – we then fire the piece for the first time to burn the plant material and prepare it for glaze. They look like fossils we find in nature at this stage.

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, destined for Jhaveri’s tile (shown in accompanying image).
The artist laying out Hopi Red Dye Amaranth.
Hopi Red Dye Amaranth ready to dry in the tile.
Preparing a floral fossil scalloped bowl for the drying stage.

Multiple colored lead-free and food-safe glazes are mixed and prepared to make the flowers and botanicals pop – it’s like inlay work. Excess materials are wiped away and the piece is then painted a second time for maximum artistic effect. Finally, the pieces are glazed to fire for the final time at a very high temperature.

When the final product comes out, we examine each piece and ready it for shipping. The process takes about three weeks from raw to ready-to-ship.

Examining a completed floral fossil bowl.
Each original piece is signed by the artist, Neena Jhaveri.

To learn more about Jhaveri’s work and design studio, visit her website.

To purchase from the artist’s exclusive Monticello Collection, visit The Shop at Monticello or purchase online.