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Shop Talk #003: Maek Ceramics

Who is Maek Ceramics and how did it come to be?

Hey, first lemme say thanks so much for having us, it’s always good to interact with friends that are doing good things!

Maek got going for two reasons (along with good timing). Michaela and I are pretty different in all the right ways that make working together both challenging and super rewarding, as she was finishing up her MBA at Loma I was reeling in post-graduation angst, I was making money by making videos for things I didn’t believe in (or really agree with). As she got closer and closer to finishing I was plugging harder and harder for a theoretical company I thought we could start. About halfway through summer of ‘17 I was in the Bay Area and ran into an old mentor and we struck up a conversation about our desire to produce things (maybe even art) that mattered and at the same time had a practical reason to exist, that was when I decided that we could do it! We moved back to Michaela’s hometown of Clayton, CA and her dad let us take over half of his barn, and it’s been a steep learning curve ever since. We couldn’t have done it without the priceless mentorship and hospitality of her parents who are both entrepreneurs, and our friends who think our pots are worth the risk of letting us move away.

 

 

Quick Five:

1. Currently Listening To:  Haplin Hills and Deafheaven. But also Pete Holmes’ podcast called “You Made It Weird”

2. Never Leave Home Without: Shred sled, Moviepass card, reusable coffee mug. Michaela’s water bottle.

3. Dream Collaboration:  I have had so much fun working with coffee shops to make all of their in-shop wares, I honestly would love to be able to transition to doing that all the time! It would blow my mind if one of my favorite roasters like Verve or Copa hit us up!

4. Book (or whatever else) Recommendation:  I read a book last year by Jonathan Franzen called the “Kraus Project” that was so relevant on so many levels. Also I just saw a documentary at a film festival about one of the greatest human rights activists of our time called “Kailash” be on the lookout for that to come out and try to organize a screening at your school, church, community center, surf shop, etc.!

5. Bucket List Adventure:  Spend three months in a eastern monastery to be enveloped in spiritual practices that I have always struggled with. 

Deep Dive:

1. How did you get into ceramics? Was there a particular moment where it ‘clicked’ for you?

I took a ceramics class in my senior year at Point Loma High School with a teacher named Rudy Rodeheaver, he was a spry yet reserved guy, he had a huge white beard down to his waist and went surfing at the south mission jetty every morning. He saw something in me (potentially fairly severe ADHD) and let me throw on the wheel every day instead of doing the class projects, and I was hooked! It was a completely different experience than anything else in the fast-paced-insta-saturated world of highschool and it sparked a desire in me to make things, and that desire lead me to be an art major in college the next year. Four years later it was another ceramics class at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU/Loma) where by an act of God Michaela sat next to me and introduced herself, and from that point on we were partnering on projects for people and the people kept wanting more.

For Michaela the moment came during a community college course one summer. She had always been an excellent drawer and painter, and for a while had been looking for an opportunity to try ceramics. The time came during her summers away from Loma, she opted to take ceramics courses at her local CC where there was unlimited glaze, clay, and kilns. The shop was open all day and she fell in love. By the time we met at PLNU senior year we both had a pretty good baseline for the craft.

 

2. Your collection seems to truly focus on every last little detail whether it be through the choice of glaze, the positioning of the handle, or simply anticipating and designing for how the product will be used on a daily basis. What does the process of designing a new piece look like for you?

(Laughs) It’s a funny question for me just because I already know we (Michaela and I) have such different answers. The drawing board is my favorite stage in the process, and honestly if it were up to me, I would only finish 20% of the projects I start (I’m sure my mother is nodding along with me as she reads). But on the real, I think the prototyping and designing process is the most fruitful stage of ceramics–or anything, really. There is far more error than instagram is willing to let us believe during the trial and error process of anything, and so many of the artists and creators I look up to reaffirm this, I’m constantly learning to look at the errors and failures as part of the beauty of the making process and lifestyle. Maybe another way to say that is, if our collection looks good, it’s only because of loads of failed pieces and (quite literally) half-baked pots. Just this past fire I had 6 different drafts of an espresso cup for a coffee shop job and three of them were ridiculous, dangerous even! (laughs)

This may be a little pretentious, but I think it’s one of the few #makerculture trends to buy into is: Life is similar to craft in the way that there is a tension between effortless beauty and tedious labor, the goods happen in the overlap. (also there’s no such thing as effortless beauty, come at me.)

 

 

3. How would you describe the general aesthetic of your collection?

Ceramics is a crazy tradition, it’s one that dates back to the inception of our species. Humans have been using fired clay since cooked food was a thing, and every corner of the world has their own history with clay, so there are thousands of years and hundreds of traditions to pull from when deciding what kind of ornamentation to use or not use. I think that, for us, it has become really important to pay attention to the way craft shows up in culture for our customers and communities. Hopefully even our aesthetics are taking this into account. There is a trend of devaluing the touch of the hand (think “handmade” at Walmart/Target) and a response that puts out needlessly expensive goods ($130 mugs on insta), but once again we want to live in the middle of that spectrum. I think that using handmade wares is a good way to participate in a re-valuing of time and human interaction. At its best I think that buying and selling handmades are pursuits that can begin to rehumanize an economic system that is currently oppressing almost an entire hemisphere. But the aesthetics of the pieces bought and sold must be in response to the culture they are made to comment on. I am aware of the irony that is: in-order to pursue ceramics there is a fair amount of privilege required (the same privilege that is dehumanizing people who don’t), but there is a philosopher by the name of Judith Butler who writes about the need to change the performance by using the script handed to us, she uses the metaphor of the ‘play’ (like performing-arts) to say that a critique of the system must come from within the language of the system in order to be received and responded to (you can’t just go barging in to a classical performance of Macbeth with contemporary english slang and expect the performers to absorb you into their world). And the aesthetics of modern craft (like the direct lines of the Bauhaus movement, the geometry of Le Corbusier, and the simple forms of Ray and Charles Eames), have been co-opted by the system and made into something that harkens to status and intelligence, a new style of conspicuous-consumption. But, this co-opting lays the perfect foundation to revalue other aspects of these traditions that have the ability to redeem the shortsightedness of the trend for trend’s sake. It might just be art.

Sorry about that roundabout answer… Michaela is always telling me I think too hard about things that can’t be solved by my actions. Oh well, I still think it’s worth the thought.

 

4. What story do you hope to tell through your work and Maek Ceramics in general?

A few years ago one of my friends challenged me to do away with my social medias, he had been doing it for a few months and felt that his life was really benefiting from the repercussions. I followed in suit and immediately realized I had been missing out on so much. It was a pretty holistic renovation of my social and spiritual interaction with the world (I’m straight up serious.) I think I realized how much more fulfilling the present moment was as soon as I wasn’t invested in sharing it with everybody who wasn’t there. And the repercussions of this new selfishness turned out to be better conversations, deeper relationships, and the creation of more original art. Making ceramics is just a public way to say thank you to the moments that have allowed for me to be present and a reminder to keep on pressing in. I think I speak for both of us when I say this isn’t a fix-all–by any means–to a really broken world, but, for now, it’s a way to keep our heads up and profess a more intentional worldview while we work.

 

5. When you’re not sitting down behind the wheel or firing up the kiln, what are you usually up to?

Michaela is a soccer coach at her alma mater, and gets to spend a lot of time with her sister (who has a real job). I work a couple days a week with People People Media Company based in Palo Alto fulfilling odds and ends and trying to put out good content. We see a lot of movies and try and get to San Diego as often as possible to see loved ones.

 

6. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of running a ceramics studio?

I love the flexibility of the space, it can be a photo studio, a glaze room, a hang-out, a fortress, a casting room, or just an office. Clay forces you to work on it’s schedule and so the hours can be odd and often demanding, but that is all part of exploding the expectations I have that I am the most important part of my world. There are also just a lot of tasks that have nothing to do with making things, like maintaining a website, making sure all of our accounts are functioning, and packaging and shipping. I never knew how much math I would be doing as a ceramicist.

Michaela’s least favorite part is when I don’t clean up.

 

7. If you could achieve one thing with your brand what would that be and why?

I just hope that somehow people begin to take part in a slower economy that begins to diffuse the narcissism of the west. If Maek can just support and advocate for those who have already invested their lives in this pursuit, than I’d be hyped.

 

Where to find Maek:

Social: @maekceramics

Website: www.maekceramics.com

Elsewhere: Various shops. email: info@maekceramics.com

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