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Midwest Clay Project

Midwest Clay Project’s cerulean blue bowls created by Ryan Lawless will soon be moving to the Willy Street Co-op, East and West, (where they will be available for sale until they’re gone) to help kick off the Co-op’s new partnership with MCP. “Our studio will certainly be producing more bowls,” said Lapham, “but this batch is unique and when they’re gone, they’re gone.” The Co-op provides a much wider audience for Midwest Clay Project’s wares, a fact that excites Lapham. This is an opportunity for people to purchase a limited edition item of handmade pottery with a unique history.

When you walk in the door at Midwest Clay Project (918 Williamson Street), it’s hard to miss the enormous pile of cerulean blue bowls tumble stacked in the corner of their gallery. Ryan Lawless, a Wisconsin native who completed his MFA degree at the UW this May, entered graduate school with impressive skills for throwing production pottery. He made the 800 bowls as part of a large sculpture project. Each bowl has a number faintly inscribed into the bottom, which marks it as part of this series. Originally appearing in Lawless’ installation at “Bookless” (the one-night art extravaganza at Madison’s Central Library this past January), many people recognize the striking blue pile when they walk in the door at Midwest Clay Project, and at $10 a bowl, the pile is shrinking fast!

Midwest Clay Project was founded in November 2010 by artist and educator Jennifer Lapham. The fully equipped ceramics studio offers a variety of classes for just about everyone and lots of studio opportunities for people who love working with clay. The studio is designed to accommodate children and adults with a range of physical abilities and special needs, and the studio’s equipment includes a potter’s wheel designed for use with a wheelchair. In addition to providing a place for people to work in clay, the studio has recently increased production of handmade wares for other local businesses, including Willy Street Co-op. Lapham points out that she enjoys making wares for other local businesses and restaurants, “There is something wonderful about the collaboration and anonymity involved in making pottery to be sold or used in other specific contexts, …pots roll right from the kiln into people’s hands.”

Lapham and her two studio managers, Allison Craver and Jackie Matelski, currently produce the commissioned “MCP wares.” Some of the work is hand-thrown on the potter’s wheel, other projects are handbuilt or slipcast. Lapham points out, “People often mistake slipcasting as a form of mechanical reproduction that does not involve craftsmanship. Quite the opposite actually—slipcasting, which involves pouring liquid clay into a mold in much the same way one would make a hollow chocolate bunny, requires a tremendous amount of skill and attention to detail, there are so many things that can go wrong along the way. Also, the making of the plaster slipcasting molds is a complex endeavor in itself that mingles science, math and design.” All MCP pots are individually produced from start to finish in their Willy Street studio and the glazes are hand-batched using specialized versions of “venerable glaze recipes that have floated around the studio ceramics worldfor decades,” states Lapham. “Our process is sort of a clay version of what our neighbors do at Madison Sourdough Company… we make things from scratch!” The choice of location next to the bakery was fully intentional, “We love being next door to the bakery, we provide one another with new customers and it’s a great relationship…clay and bread.”

Check out these beautiful bowls at Willy Street Co-op!

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