One of the best things about pottery is the sensation that occurs while holding it: Running my fingers over a piece’s carefully sculpted surfaces, and discovering variations in texture along the way, I feel profoundly connected to the hands that formed it. The chubby, weighty creations by East Fork, a pottery studio nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, take this near-magical experience to the next level. Cofounded in 2009 by Alex and Connie Matisse, East Fork initially fired its hand-thrown dishware in a wood kiln Alex built himself. He’d enhance each piece with slip-trailing, a technique that involves squirting watered-down clay through a needle-thin nozzle onto pottery in lines or shapes (Alex’s fluid, ornate patterns sometimes evoke drawings made by his great-grandfather, Henri Matisse). Working with the wood kiln was essential to creating the deep, dynamic surface quality that defined his work, but was also time-consuming and limiting: It took months to create enough pieces to fill the six-foot-tall, 35-foot-long space, which distributed heat so unevenly, it restricted the type of glazes he could use. After a lot of soul searching, the Matisses decided to expand East Fork and make its wares more widely accessible. They switched to a gas kiln, which produces more consistent pottery in a fraction of the time. Alex recently told an interviewer that the transition was “like going from a Conestoga wagon to a Tesla.”
The gas kiln also allowed the studio to experiment with color. The latest is a milky, robin’s-egg blue called Malibu, released today along with the very limited-edition hand-thrown Slope Vase, pictured above with East Fork’s signature unglazed rim. Like all its work, there’s an unfussy sturdiness to it. Made from clay sourced from North Carolina’s Piedmont region and covered in brown speckles—the result of iron molecules pulled through the glaze during the firing process—the vessel is wonderfully imperfect and personal. It’s almost a privilege to cradle something so intimate in your hands.