It’s always an honor to spend time with folks, moreso for people who enter our space and a deeper relationship develops. Alex is one of those people; she has a vibrancy and attention to others that few possess! She also recently had some of her pottery in our Voluto space, another bit of her hospitality that folks carry with them when they buy her pieces. Here’s a collection of conversations we’ve had with her over the last 8 months…
From what roots did you grow?
I grew up in New Jersey in a town called South Orange. The town is very diverse in different ways; I was heavily influenced by being around such a heterogeneous group of people from a young age.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Washington University in St. Louis and studied Political Science and Psychology. The majors seemed very different at the time, but looking back, it makes me realize that they’re both fields that try to understanding humans and communities — one just starts from the bottom and one from the top!
How did you move on from school?
For the first five years after graduating from college, I worked in international development with the goal of contributing in some way to alleviating poverty in developing countries. I moved to Israel and worked in and learned about different developing communities. I lived in Zambia, where I worked for a tech company that uses mobile technology (like cell phones) to improve healthcare for the poor. I then worked for an NGO in D.C. that helps healthcare innovations grow to serve more poor people.
During all of those years, I came to feel that I wasn’t actually helping people or communities the way I had hoped to. I also didn’t feel personally engaged in much of the work I was doing; too often, I was many steps (and thousands of miles) removed from the people I was working so hard to understand and serve.
After a lot of self-reflection, I came to identify areas that I did know more about through personal experience; areas where I was more of an “insider” who could speak from experience, rather than an “outsider” who could speak from travel or observation or judgement. In addition, I also felt as though there was something deeply inauthentic about my work. Being a part of making big decisions about people I didn’t know who were in vulnerable positions didn’t feel right. I came to realize that at least at this point in my life, working in international development wasn’t right for me.
I moved to Pittsburgh last summer, and I knew I wanted to spend my time pursuing activities and projects that felt honest — more in-line with who I was, what I needed, and what I felt I could authentically contribute to others.
I wanted to better understand the nature of gatherings and communities and how those environments can affect and empower people. I started a blog, alexrob.com, where I explored those topics and chronicled all of the changes that were happening in my professional life. It was a scary for me to be so vulnerable in a public forum, but being open seemed like it would be a great growing experience for me. And maybe, something I wrote would help someone else think through how they could make changes in their own lives.
I also decided to take pottery classes, which was something I had wanted to try for a long time. It started out as something I thought would be a hobby, but it’s morphed into the way I spend most of my days. I feel so content when I sit down at a pottery wheel; my hands make what they make, and the honesty in that feels wonderful. After a few months, I started a small business called Studio Lev that sells the pottery I make.
Tell us about Studio Lev: What passion spins the wheel?
My vision for Studio Lev was to start a company that sells handmade things that people can use when they host gatherings. I’ve seen how intimate environments, like simple and home-y dinner parties, can forge deep connections between people who many not have interacted unless they were sharing a meal together. I wanted to figure out how to empower people to host more of those gatherings!
Over the past few months, Studio Lev has become an experimental lab of sort for me to explore how physical objects and environments can help people connect with others and feel empowered to put their ideas into action.
Also, I’d like to give a shout out to the pottery studio that I work out of — it’s called Ton Pottery and it’s located in Lawrenceville. Dan Kuhn, the owner of the studio and my teacher, is wonderful, and his studio is fantastic. It’s definitely the enabling force behind my foray into ceramic arts.
Soooooo, you’re getting married? What’s the story?? Details!
Ari, my fiance, and I met almost six years ago in Israel at the start of a year-long fellowship that we were both a part of. About a week into our time in Israel, Ari and I were out one night at a bar on the beach and he asked if he could kiss me. I hesitated, and explained to Ari that I wasn’t ready to jump into a relationship; I’m usually not one to jump into situations without thinking them through first. However, it was only a few weeks later, after getting to know Ari and understanding more about the incredible person that he is, that I asked him if I could kiss him. We’ve been together ever since!
Ari proposed to me just before Thanksgiving at the Phipps Conservatory. We had just had a lovely breakfast at Coca Cafe (our favorite!) and were calmly walking through the botanical gardens. Then he got down on one knee! I was so surprised in the moment. It was really special. We are getting married over Labor Day Weekend in Pittsburgh and couldn’t be more excited!
A few days after Alex gets married, she’s leaving the neighborhood of Bloomfield and moving to Berkeley, California to pursue life on the West Coast. We at Voluto will miss her!