“Many people see Reform synagogues as hideous—they’ve become a reviled form of architecture,” says Manhattan ceramicist Jonathan Adler. “I see them as the apotheosis of organic Modernist design.” His parents belonged to a Conservative congregation, but he found his muse in the spare, undulating forms of the postwar Modernist temple where his grandparents worshiped and others like it. His recent line of Reform Temple Vases makes explicit his sources of inspiration.

Adler, who started throwing pots as an adolescent, prefers not to think of himself as an artist—”Artists tend to be very serious and self-important about what they do and that’s never been my approach,” he says—but at 38, he is enjoying his first museum exhibition, at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art through early April. Curator Matthew Singer, a longtime Adler fan, pairs photographs of synagogues—a Louise Nevelson bimah in Great Neck, a Miami sanctuary stocked with Paul Evans furniture—with the pottery, showing how Adler’s playful, “groovy” designs reiterate and refine the aesthetic vocabulary of the suburban buildings of the Sixties. These places of worship, characterized by simple geometric shapes and drab hues with the occasional splash of vivid color, are often sources of embarrassment for the communities—but not for Adler. “Think of amazing Renaissance churches,” he says. “Places of worship have always been over-the-top.”