The Fire Burnt Out
Oct 12, 2018 • Alex Matisse
"Personal growth and good life. All of that, stored up, and radiating outwards now." Some of East Fork's veterans share stories from the early days.
It's been a beautiful, expansive year for us. We've been growing and changing so much as a company, it can sort of feel like puberty. We are faced with unprecedented challenges almost hourly. It can be clumsy and messy, but we take it day by day, and ultimately, out of the chaos, some structure and sense emerge. Our wings are spreading, and while we couldn't be more grateful and excited as we continue this journey, we also are having a major get-me-a-tissue moment as we look back on our beginnings. It's bittersweet, y'all.
As we finish moving the last few desks and plants into our gorgeous new production/office space, it felt natural for us to do a little emotional inventory and share our favorite memories from out at the old pottery in Marshall. We had a big, beautiful feast to say farewell and some of our OG members reminisced about the good times they had. We laughed, we cried, and Max fondly remembers feeding a kitten an egg. Anyway, we know it's sappy, but we wanted to share these memories with y'all to give a little more insight into where we're coming from.
Misty Water-colored Memories
Alex (CEO/Founder) says:
The first few winters were snowy ones. I would trudge up to the workshop and relight the stove and put some water on top to heat to use while I was throwing. When my clay was pugged and weighed up for the day, Connie (if she wasn't bartending or tending sheep-she had both of those jobs at the same time) would come up and sit on a huge pile of clay near my wheel and start reading Harry Potter. I had never read the books when I was younger, always thinking that they were just a cheap knock-off of the Lord of the Rings, but I was wrong. The snow fell heavy and thick that year and we felt wrapped in our own warm cocoon, insulated from everything.
Max Adams, Glaze Lead says:
What's my greatest regret from living and working out at the pottery? Not telling Kinky (pottery cat) that I loved him more often. Good memory? My first winter at the pottery, I spent a week tending the ducks in Anna and Michael's absence. I was collecting eggs and had come across this itty-bitty nickel sized egg—probably Tina's, the runt. We were looking at this itty-bitty egg the next week at work and giggling about it. Cus it was so small, right? And then we realized it was an itty-bitty kitty sized egg. So we let Kinky inside and we set him a tiny table setting: little plate and fork, napkin bib, candles, etc. He looked real civilized for an outdoor cat. But let me assure you, he was not. He ate that itty-bitty kitty sized fried egg before I had even said grace. God rest his soul. I'll bet someone has a photo on their phone of Kinky and that egg.
Connie side note:
Kinky was indeed a mischievous, kinky little cat. He and his sister/lover showed up on our porch our first winter in the house and just stuck around. I took him to the vet and had to pick him up in this parking lot with other pet parents and a woman with a clipboard shouted out the names of our pets for us to come fetch from the back of the van. "Kinky Matisse!!! Is Kinky Matisse's mom here?" clipboard woman shouted.
Cade Hollomon-Cook, Production Manager says:
Alex and I were loading the wood kiln, it was winter and cold and we had carelessly forgotten to put a cone pack in one of the stacks of the kiln. Not that the cold had anything to do with it, I'm just trying to set the tone here, ha! We had already done a row of big pots and were over halfway through the next stack before we had noticed. Since wood kilns are basically fired completely from the information cone packs provide we knew we would have to take down the portion and go place it. For the sake of not having to do that, we decided that I would climb over the stack, land between the big pots and place the cone pack. Alex boosted me up onto the shelf and I laid perfectly flat to evenly distribute my weight and not knock the whole thing down. It was overall quite stable but felt very precarious considering the stakes of knocking over a stack or a big pot. I felt like I was slipping through lasers like in a spy movie or something--this story is better in person as I could do said motion to really punch it up. Anyway, we successfully placed the cone pack and I slid back over the shelf and we proceeded loading. It's a simple story but it makes me giggle whenever I think about it as we must have looked so funny doing this.
And to be a little sappy — In so many ways, I came into my own personhood here, this always ebbs and flows, grows and retracts but a foundation was laid. I've had so many high and lows and Connie, Alex, and John always supported me. Then came Kyle who has always done the same, followed by Max and then all these other wonderful people.
John Vigeland, CFO/COO and Co-Founder says:
I’ve got a more recent memory of the old pottery. It was probably 2 months ago. It had been a day (similar to this one) where there was more to do than time to do it. At around 7 pm, I got to the final item on my list: I had to pack up a few pots from the lower studio to go into town for photography. Closing the laptop, stepping out into the twilight, the eyeballs refocusing. I was alone out at the pottery for the first time in months—everyone had gone home for the day. It’s a hundred yards or so from the house up to where the production happens—just a long enough walk for the sudden solitude and the quiet and the hour of the day to work up a mood. In the glaze studio, the air was still and close and warm. The overhead lights are so bright that they seal you off from the darkness outside. And standing up there, by myself in that space that had lately been so full of people and their work and their music and their conversation, I had something of an experience, that I will try to describe with an extended metaphor. Just go with me on this one.
Imagine you are out walking in the woods, or maybe the high desert. You get to where you’re going a little after dark, and sit to rest with your back against a smooth rock. And when you do, you realize that this must be the western face of the rock: it’s deliciously warm from the afternoon sun it has been absorbing. It’s obvious and mundane but at the same time sort of alchemical—that daylight can be stored up in an inert rock and reflected back out in the darkness, hours after sundown. So the Experience I had that night in the glaze studio was like that—but here, the studios, the property, those thirty acres were the big smooth rock, and the heat stored up inside it was the energy of all of the folks who work at East Fork, all of their collective efforts. The inert objects up in that studio—the pots sorted neatly onto boards, the tools lined up on the tables, the buckets, sponges—all of them were animated by the echoes of the will that it took to bring them to that point. The different lives that have called it all into being. On those thirty acres, over the past ten years, more than a few people have been asked to bring their best efforts to bear on the task at hand. This place has been a witness to us as we find our limits, both individual and collective, by being pushed beyond them. And it has watched as we expand the limits, both individual and collective, of what is possible.
Personal growth and good life. All of that, stored up, and radiating outwards now.
Connie Matisse, CCO and Co-Founder says:
"Alex and I and East Fork as we know it might never have happened if it weren't for a bad case of the stomach flu. I met Alex in 2009 at a holiday market in the basement of a roller rink turned antique store. I was selling goat cheese, he was wearing flannel, we were 24. He didn't buy any cheese from me that day but I chased him out the door and asked him if he "wanted to be my friend" (direct quote). We kinda fell in love on our first date, but I was kinda sorta seeing someone, so I decided I was going to break it off with Alex. Parked in my little pick-up in the driveway of 310 Ras Grooms Rd, I started letting him down as easy as I could—but hardly got the words out before it started coming out both his ends. I took him inside and he just kept vomiting for hours and hours—so we put the break-up conversation on hold and I spent the night. In the morning we woke to 36 inches of snow and a 100 foot downed hemlock blocking my car into the driveway. We were snowed in for 5 days—telling stories of our childhood by candlelight and working our way through a big pot of boeuf bourguignon. When the snow cleared enough for us to walk to town to get gas for the chainsaw to get my truck out of the driveway, I went home to California for Christmas, came back to NC to the double-wide trailer on the goat farm where I'd been living, packed my bags and moved in with Alex in the dusty little farmhouse at the end of the road.
When Alex told me his vision for the place—to build a wood kiln, invite hundreds of people to buy pottery off our porch, throw big parties, turn that little holler into a place bustling with activity—I thought he was crazy. Now, when he asks me to close my eyes and see his vision for East Fork in 10 or 20 years, I trust completely.
Wanna hear more about those early years at East Fork? Check out this PBS special. There's a smoky filter, fog machines, and a lot of Ken Burns effect. In other words, it's essential viewing: