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Henri Matisse’s great-grandson is making beautiful ceramics
May 11, 2018
Katy B. Olson

East Fork, the Asheville, North Carolina–based ceramics company, was founded by Alexander Matisse, the great-grandson of Henri Matisse. Two new glazes are debuting from the brand this spring, and for the occasion, EAL chatted with Connie Matisse, co-founder and creative director.

East Fork launched two new glazes this spring; courtesy East Fork
East Fork launched two new glazes this spring; courtesy East Fork.

Tell us about your design process. How do you choose which pieces to produce?
Alex had been sticking incense into a crack in the wall next to his potter’s wheel for years until the crack got too full of spent incense sticks, so he had to make an incense burner. Just as soon as our daughter, Vita, could talk, she started asking for a cup her size “just like Dada’s, but tiny,” so we made the Toddler Cup. Each piece in our collection was made to serve a purpose, and every detail was considered to make it as functional and pleasurable to use as possible.

We offer a full range of dinnerware to fit a wide variety of lifestyles, whether you live alone with your cat and need nothing more than a bowl to reheat leftovers, or have a family of six and love to throw dinner parties. We release small runs of limited-edition items several times a year to add on to and complement the collection, such as new vase forms, honey jars, pitchers and utensil holders.

In our home, our most used pieces are the Breakfast Bowl, Everyday Bowl, Toddler Cup and Mug the Weeknight Serving Bowl.

East Fork launched two new glazes this spring; courtesy East Fork
East Fork launched two new glazes this spring; courtesy East Fork.

We love your blog! Do you have plans to add any other smaller initiatives or events to your brand?
Thank you! Alex journaled pretty extensively online when he was an apprentice, then I used it to document the early days of building our business; it’s grown into a really collaborative space for our staff and community to share recipes, ideas, good stuff from around the Internet, and interviews with Asheville folks we admire.

We love throwing parties and get-togethers and try to host a gathering every month, either at at our downtown Asheville storefront or in our friends’ restaurants. We’ve hosted Japanese cooking classes, flower arranging workshops, tarot readings, mezcal tastings, and a birthday party for Marriage Equality. Right now, a few fun things we have in the pipeline: a gaucho-inspired dinner with Jarrett Stieber from [restaurant] Eat Me Speak Me in Atlanta this June, and a truly epic weekend-long bash for our new factory launching later this year.

Henri Matisse’s great-grandson is making beautiful ceramicsWe offer a full range of dinnerware to fit a wide variety of lifestyles, whether you live alone with your cat and need nothing more than a bowl to reheat leftovers, or have a family of six and love to throw dinner parties.

Most of our events are used to raise money for and bring awareness to area nonprofits doing important work in our community. Each year, we make what we call our Equality Mug, with proceeds benefiting the Campaign for Southern Equality.

We’re currently selling a t-shirt that we made that reads “Pottery Is Political.” The project started as a response to people asking us to “keep your politics out of our pottery.” We believe that businesses, artists, public figures—all of us—have a responsibility to contribute to the holistic wellness of our communities. We know that communities thrive when all voices are heard, when marginalized voices are listened to extra closely, when our children are safe from threats of gun violence, and when everyone has access to basics like health care, clean water, and education.

The shirts are available for purchase on a sliding scale from $30 to $300. Customers are able to choose to donate the proceeds of the shirt to Higher Heights, a 501 (c)(3) that helps helps black women enter positions of political power and leadership or Everytown, which works to end gun violence in America.

Tell us about the forthcoming manufacturing facility. Why haven’t there been others over the last 50 years? What are the challenges, and rewards, in opening it?
Currently, our staff is spread out over many smaller locations, including the original site of the pottery, which is essentially a few shacks in the middle of the woods. We’ve maxed out our production capacity and are excited to bring everyone under one roof to improve operational efficiency, and more importantly, to continue to build the beautiful culture that is forming around East Fork as we grow.

We look forward to bringing living-wage jobs to Asheville and adding our own voice to the rich history of makers in our region.

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