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Functional Objects: Ceramics with Mary Moen


January 22, 2024

Function meets form when Mary's in the studio. Meet Mary Moen, Studio Other Design Consultant, who is getting acquainted with clay as she learns ceramics from the ground up. Inspired by the midcentury ceramics movement in the French countryside, Mary makes mostly hand-built functional objects that she would want in her own home (although she has a habit of gifting most of them away).  

How did you first get into ceramics?  

I’ve always been interested in ceramics. In college, I’d always be trying new classes and workshops in my free time. (I didn’t own a TV until I met my husband). But I decided to kickstart it when Studio started the Passion Project series and signed up for a class at Santa Monica College. Luckily, the team supported my Friday 5-hour class for a semester where I learned ceramics basics. The rest is history.  

What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve made?  

I like functional things. I love burning incense so I made an incense holder and vessels to burn Palo Santo.

Where did you draw inspiration from for your work?

Last fall, I visited Accolay, a city in the countryside of France, known for the colorful ceramics that became popular in the midcentury. The movement began with four young artists who escaped German-occupied Paris in 1944 and began an experimental pottery studio in an old factory in the little village of Accolay where they started by making ceramic buttons. Their breakout moment came when Christian Dior ordered 300 of their ceramic buttons for his New Look collection. Accolay Pottery blew up from there and thrived until the mid-1970s while Accolay became a destination for Parisians heading to the Cote d’Azur on holiday during the 1950s and 60s.

I fell in love with Accolay pottery because the pieces are hand-thrown and many feature unique textural details. Also I love that while the pieces are sculptural in nature, they’re still functional. Many of the forms are inspired by classic shapes of urns, and others are truly unique. Some are rustic, others are more refined.

How long does it take you to build it?

From a couple hours to days, weeks, years...

What materials are used?

Clay, tools, wheel, kiln, glazes

What was your greatest obstacle in the process and how did you overcome it?

The biggest obstacle is giving the work the time and patience it needs. That’s why I dedicated myself to taking a college course — it kept me accountable.