W estville-based artist Lesley Roy is known for the signature “crackle” design on her high-end dinnerware and decorative pieces, imbuing them with a well-aged look, as if they belong in a museum and not on your dining room table.
Although the beautiful collections, available in motifs like bright Apricot Peony, ornate Rosarium and delicate Orchidaceum, made a name for the friendly and imaginative Roy, she doesn’t actually produce the dinnerware anymore, though it still sells at upscale shops like Harrods, department mecca Neiman Marcus and, naturally, her own studio on Whalley Avenue, which is open by appointment.
The work she does now extends wider, including painting, teaching, restoring art, organizing gallery shows and—her current obsession—extensive traveling to photograph exotic and rare birds.
Roy’s sounds like a rich, fulfilling life, and it’s a funny story how she got there. In the 1970s, a teenaged Roy, living in Bethany, won a national contest around Clairol’s Long & Silky shampoo, which launched a multi-year modeling career that brought her to far-off reaches of the globe, affording “the opportunity to learn about different aesthetics around the world,” she says. Inspired, she began designing jewelry in the 1980s, which got featured in Cosmopolitan magazine, then in the revered showcase space at Saks Fifth Avenue. Her life as a professional artist had taken off.
Later, in 1990, came a stint at Yale School of Art. Studying classic artists there kindled her obsession with the “crackled” look—the lines that form as the paint ages on centuries-old works. “The [organic] crackle process takes 500 years,” she says, “but I wanted to do it now.” For two years while at Yale, and while teaching art classes at local enclaves like Creative Arts Workshop, she developed the crackling process that would come to define the Lesley Roy dinnerware collection.
Soon she’d dedicated herself to making and selling the dinnerware full-time. At first it was Roy alone, working tirelessly on salad and dinner plates, serving bowls and wine glasses in a small space next to her current shop.
As with her jewelry, the new collections caught on. Soon she was filling massive orders with high-end retailers, as well as doing commission work for clients who loved her work (a service she still offers). Additional artisans came on board, as did, Roy says, a loyal clientele, including royals and other elites who clamored for her pieces, which have price tags that reflect their artistic value; a single plate, for instance, can go for $180. In between filling orders, Roy put her creativity towards marketing, making personal appearances at retail locations and hosting dinners prepared by guest chefs and served using her collection.
Life was unquestionably busy, and it came time to slow down. For Roy, though, “slow” is a relative concept. Her days remain bustling, with new projects popping up along the way, such as her work helping to rescue and publicize the artwork of famed Iraqi artist Ala Bashir, arranging showings in New Haven and abroad a few years ago.
At present, her life is consumed with photography. She tells me she’s captured rare birds that even the pros have a tough time finding, and has been courted by ornithologists who wish to use her pictures in online guides. “I want to capture these birds before they disappear,” Roy says.
Her pursuits have been incredibly varied, but to Roy, they’re all connected: “I really see the beauty in life, in everything.” She’s considering utilizing her studio to teach again, or opening it up as a communal art space, hoping to inspire a new crop of artists in New Haven. “The creative spirit is contagious,” she says.
Lesley Roy Home Couture
845 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Open by appointment.
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.