The day is warm and humid with an overcast glare of cool grey light. Lynne waits to greet me on the steps of her quaint two-story north Winnipeg home. I walk up the crisply detailed wood and steel stairway (which Lynne designed and had custom fabricated) and into the warm oaky glow of the main floor. As one half of the ceramics duo Mud + Stone, Lynne literally takes her work home with her. The cozy living room space of her house has comfortable furniture and minimal accents, yet also doubles as a pottery showroom with tidy white industrial shelves displaying rows of the elegant and pragmatic pieces that Mud + Stone have gained attention for. Production takes place in the dining room, where a potter’s wheel and tools sit ready, and the electric kiln used to fire all their work is downstairs. The other half of the partnership, Jen, arrives at the house a few minutes later, along with her months old baby Bo, sleeping soundly in a carrier. Lynne brings me strong coffee in wide black Mud + Stone mug as I browse around the space. I’ve been looking forward to visiting this pair of makers since first handling some of the pieces they graciously provided EQ3 for our Fall-Winter 2015/16 catalog shoot. Mud + Stone ceramics fuse a modern industrial design aesthetic with a charming handmade execution. The crisp clean lines and generous form of the coffee mug Lynne brought me are embellished with an ergonomic thumb-dented side and a simple oversized handle. It’s finished in a striking matte black glaze, one of many they’ve developed themselves. A really nice example of design and craft together.
While the pair has only been working professionally as Mud + Stone for about a year and a half, their partnership solidified quickly, and they wasted no time establishing their presence. Besides selling ceramics from their home studio and their Etsy site, they are also stocked in a variety of keen independent shops around Winnipeg, and as far away as Ontario. Their work is used for service at Winnipeg fine dining establishments Deer & Almond and Sydney’s at the forks and has been featured in various culinary magazines, the Globe and Mail, and on the Food Network. Mud + Stone have built a niche for themselves making sleek design-savy objects with a humble approach. Lynne and Jen are responsible for the entire process, including collaborating on everything from concept, to throwing, finishing, and distribution. The results are straight forwardly pragmatic pieces, fused with subtle craftsmanship and ergonomic awareness, void of any sort of preciousness. Soon Lynne is holding little Bo so that Jen can demonstrate her skills on the wheel, deftly turning three nice bowls from lumps while I watch. It’s practical and pastoral at the same- creating craft objects and caring for family in an intimate residential setting. After Jen finishes at the wheel and sets the bowls to dry, we spend some more time drinking coffee and chatting about craft, design and small business.
BB: What is it about ceramics that draws you to the medium?
M+S: It’s a magical thing to be able to take a lump of clay and turn it into a completely different form that is an entirely new material (stone). Additionally the process of being able to see an idea through, start to finish and have a hand in each and every step is extremely rewarding.
BB: Do you each bring different skills and strengths to the partnership?
M+S: As individuals we have skill sets that compliment one another- Jenn has a background as a silversmith, is amazing with details, brings discipline with the cash, and is a perfectionist when it comes to throwing. She also is incredible with sales and is way more social which is critical in getting us out of our studios and into stores. Lynne has a background in design and architecture and she brings that skill set to the wheel. She deals with our graphics, branding, and merchandising. It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to further expand your ideas and to help refine concepts with. Pottery can be an extremely isolating medium when it’s just you and the wheel. Even through we have our own studios we are in constant communication thought the day, sending each other pics of what we are making and sharing ideas.
BB: The bird feeders are great, can you talk about the creation of this series?
M+S: Thanks! The feeders actually were one of the first things that we started making as Mud + Stone. The idea stemmed back a couple of years to when we were students and wanted to learn how to make closed forms. We had seen feeders made out of plastic and figured it’d be fun to make them in ceramic. It is an ever evolving series, as each one can have a unique form- the possibilities for restyling is limitless and we are working towards a few new styles for fall.
BB: You mention on your website the importance of producing long lasting functional objects. Are you ever tempted to make ceramic sculpture that has no practical function? Why pursue functionality?
M+S: We are both pretty minimalist, generally speaking, and don’t have much in the way of stuff that has no purpose in our homes. So we tend to prefer functional pottery. When you are making something that you know will outlast you (and generations to come), it makes it that much more important for it to be useful and not end up as a throw away object. We can’t say that we will never make things without clear purpose, but we really love the aspect of creating objects that are meant to be used and abused everyday, not those that collect dust and people are afraid to touch.
BB: You also make it clear that you cannot compete with the price of products made overseas, and you invite people into you studio to check out your process. Do you feel like you often have to educate people about the inherent value and time you’ve invested, or defend your prices?
M+S: The average piece of pottery is handled by the person making it between 15-25 times. Quite often people will see pottery being thrown (the movie ghost is referenced by nearly everyone as the only pottery process they know which is funny) and think that it’s finished. It’s more about sharing the process than defending our prices. We hope that our products will stand out as being worth what we are asking and have had less and less of an issue with this since the initial loaf of bread for a mug trade.
BB: Do you have contemporary and/or historic influences?
M+S: It’s hard to pinpoint specific influences. Lynne’s background in design means a draw to industrial/furniture designers ( Eileen Gray and Eames have always been faves). Lately it seems that what’s informing our work is the exploration of materials ( metal, wood, leather etc) as they relate to ceramics. We are playing with how they can be used to create new functional ceramic works. Current contemporary faves are @raffeallaceramics and @sarahpikepottery and we seem to have a similar aesthetic and vibe to a quite few Australian ceramists which has been fun to discover. We tend to look outside of the ceramic world for inspiration.
BB: What is the ceramic community like in Winnipeg?
M+S: There is definitely a strong ceramic community in the city. We see a lot of potters encouraging and supporting each other in their work.
BB: Your pieces are used at local fine dining restaurants. How does food and drink influence your practice?
M+S: Collaborating with some top shelf chefs has been such an amazing creative challenge for us. Making restaurant ware adds another layer onto the design challenge. It’s one thing to make a beautiful plate, it’s a different task entirely to make a plate that looks as good with food on it as it does when the dish had been eaten. We meet with the chefs to determine some of the dishes they are working on for the plate or bowl and then work backwards from there. We know how they intend to use it and are always blown away by how what we do can inform how the plate is used. There is somewhat of a cycle- their work informs our ceramics and then our work informs their plating. It’s so amazing and keeps us fresh and creatively challenged. We are also always thinking of the end user- lip feel, how the item sounds when you cut on it, how a mug rests in your hand when you hold it a variety of ways. We have had feedback from servers that people will clear the plate then pick it up and look at it. It’s delightful to know that we have done our job in creating something durable, functional and beautiful.
BB: Thanks for everything Mud + Stone, we are so pleased to have your work in our Fall-Winter 2015/16 catalog!