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Pottery with Personality from Asheville's East Fork

DESIGN

Pottery with Personality from Asheville's East Fork

Creative Director Connie Matisse on seasonal collections, function and color

by David Graver
on 05 July 2018

"In Asheville, you can throw a rock in any direction and hit a potter," says Connie Matisse, Creative Director of East Fork—ceramics producers unlike any other. Nestled into North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, the city itself harbors crafts and craftspeople alike. East Fork has tapped into this craft, the various firing techniques, as well as the region's various clays. But their mission isn't just appealing to the region's folk pottery collectors. With exquisite glaze colors—like the turquoise hue of their just-released limited run Malibu collection—and a firm grasp of what makes something truly functional, East Fork has grown from a pottery studio into a meticulous manufacturer. They have scaled successfully and will do so again with a fall factory opening. All the while no quality has been lost and the ideas continue to pop.

Connie, her husband and co-founder Alex Matisse, and co-founder John Vigeland (the latter, both East Fork potters who underwent rigorous, traditional apprenticeships) have hit a sweet spot in the market. Their style is evident; it's a visual signature. Functionally, they have a firm grasp on the way their wares will be used—and the expectations of consumers. "We offer a core collection of classic colors and neutrals year round. We intend to keep these the same for as long as possible, but glaze materials are very finicky," Connie continues. "Sometimes our colors have to change ever so slightly. But with our expansion we hope to secure enough raw materials to make glazes exactly how we want them." From a cool white to warm taupes and soapstones, there's a framework for across all plate-forms and bowls (which come in three-piece and five-piece dinner sets, as well as accent pieces).

East Fork's limited releases give reason for excitement. They're made through different processes by hand on a wheel. Plus, East Fork releases seasonal glazes that truly inspire. Limited runs like this are available from four to six months. Every now and then, they themselves get excited about a color and offer a surprise release for a shorter duration. "We have a poppy red coming out in December, for the season, but only available that one month," Connie tells us. Regarding the Malibu turquoise, it was developed by Kyle Crowder, their glaze chemist. A chemistry major in college, Crowder normally spends months developing a new glaze. This turquoise hue was the result of a personal experiment, as he strove to represent his favorite color—and it only took him a week to get it right. "We knew we wanted to do something fun for summer, so we thought it would be fun to introduce this for a little bit," says Connie. "It's one of those fun colors that can feel of the moment but also yield a '60s midcentury Betty Draper vibe."

"People love the idea of 'made by hand,'" Connie continues, "but then they feel something that's made by a semi-automated process, and they might not recognize there's still bonkers amount of handiwork. Alex and John were trained in an apprenticeship where they were producing thousands of plates every week on the wheel, replicating them down to the millimeter—delivering absolute perfection every time. This means that our designs now are from potters who are used to designing pottery for a wheel, not for a factory. The form itself is informed by a person who has made them on a wheel. We are delivering a well-made product from our high iron content clay, fired a little higher than that of most other commercial potters, but now we are doing this on a larger scale."

East Fork has found social media to be an impactful, authentic way to convey their messaging. "We do not want to be a brand that feels generic and heartless," Connie says regarding the personality bursting forth from their Instagram. "Anyone who is not speaking honestly and not talking about issues effecting everybody and advocating for people who do not have a platform, they're wasting time. We want to use our business as tool for lasting holistic change." She also adds that they are having a good time while doing it. It's noticable, as they merge a potter's understanding of form and function with industrial, design-driven ambition. It's easy to resonate with—and the products are certainly easy to appreciate.

The limited run Malibu collection is available online now, with prices ranging from $16 up to $88.

Images courtesy of East Fork

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