Clay Buddies: Mads Ludvigsen
Nov 15, 2021 • Shannon Doyne
Mads is a member of the East Fork glaze team but outside of work, he’s making art of his own, of wood and clay. Read about him and all the places life has taken him.
Hi, Mads! What do you do here at East Fork?
My official title is 2nd shift glaze generalist. It’s a very team-oriented position and basically, we inspect and prep all the different forms in their bisque-fired stage before glazing everything and then carefully loading all the kilns.
What do you like best about your job?
Being a part of the East Fork Family. I love the company values and see myself growing within this supportive community.
What did you do before you started working here?
The first job I got, after I received my green card, was working as an oyster shucker in San Francisco. The skills I got in SF brought me to Jettie Rae’s Oyster House, here in Asheville, where I became head shucker. Everyone must go to Jettie Rae’s! It’s a restaurant with such a high level of integrity. I got really obsessed with shucking the perfect oyster, because so much goes into farming these little morsels and it goes hand in hand with preserving the environment they grow in. Fun fact: Did you know that an oyster can filter up to 40 gallons of water each day and has less neuro pathways than a parsnip!?
I had no idea! Do you think people who like oysters should learn to shuck their own at home or leave it to the professionals?
It is definitely an attainable skill and something almost everyone can learn. It comes down to what kind of occasion it is, I suppose. It can be a really cozy family tradition too. Hundreds of people I’ve met over the years have shared with me how they do it, how many they did etc etc, and I’m all for it. The cost does go down when you DYI it, and I would be happy to show anyone how it’s done:)
Where are you from?
I was born in rural Denmark, a region called Sonderjylland, grew up on a little island called Als. As soon as I was old enough, I headed straight to Copenhagen where all the action is.
Do you still have family in Denmark? Do you get to go back to visit sometimes?
Yes, my entire family are Danish people, living in Denmark. I’ve already had quite a few visits from close friends and family and twice I’ve been back, so far. Of course it’s never enough and it can be hard to be this far removed at times, but I feel happy in my life and wouldn’t do anything different. I feel lucky to be on this quite different journey, that I had never imagined in a million years:)
When you first got to the United States, what did you think? How did it compare to the places you knew in Denmark? Have you lived in other countries, too?
For a very long time I was obsessed with this one notion: Are the people I’ve been watching on American TV-shows and in Hollywood movies my whole life imitating real live Americans or are real live Americans imitating American TV-shows and Hollywood actors’ version of real live Americans? It’s sorta stupid, I know, but it was just so fascinating to me to see, hear and touch things IRL after so many years of watching American stories on various screens.
I also lived in Amsterdam for 3 years, when I was studying graphic design. A wonderful and very focused time.
How did you end up in Asheville?
Having lived with my wife in San Francisco for about 5 years, we decided to move closer to where she grew up (Central Florida) to be more in contact with my in-laws. We had heard only great things about Asheville from friends in the Bay Area who had moved here before us. The art community, the fact that there are 4 seasons here and that indefinable east coast/mountain vibe drew us in!
What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
My wife and I are both artists and next to our own endeavors, we collaborate on a quirky line of very diverse ceramics that we have decided to call MAWA Ceramics.
We are a part of Clayspace Co-op, which is situated in the Wedge Building in the River Arts District. I hand build (pinch and slab) 99% of our own little clay buddies and my wife adorns every piece with her wonderful underglaze illustrations.
We love nature hikes, bicycle rides, coffee on the porch, thrift store treasure hunts, bonfires and hammock hangs as well on days off.
Tell us about the spoons you make!
It all started in San Francisco, whilst I was awaiting my green card and had just quit smoking cigarettes. I had been dabbling with wood back in Denmark too, but mostly small things to fit into sculptures and other art related stuff. One day someone asked me if I could provide 50 variously sized eating spoons for an omakase restaurant in SF. I jumped on it and managed to fulfill the order. It was a lot of work with quite limited tools, but it sparked an obsession in me. Especially because the spoons I had been asked to produce had to follow specific sizes and shapes, all very minimal and sort of boring, but beautiful. After I finally delivered the order, I decided to continue making an ever expanding collection of interesting spoon shapes - and this is now maybe 6 years ago. I may have produced 700 or 1000 spoons since then, I’m very unsure which number it is. But I am beyond honored to have East Fork carrying my work and I can’t wait to hear the response from the public.
How do you make the spoons? And what kind of wood do you use?
I know a furniture maker out in Canton who sells me his cut-offs from his production of pretty big slab tables and other larger scale projects, mostly in Black Walnut, Cherry and Maple. It is all kiln dried, locally sourced Appalachian lumber, which is stunning wood to work with! Firstly I select all the pieces that look promising and inspect for cracks, wormholes etc and then I basically try to see the spoon that’s in there somewhere and quickly draw it on the wood. At home, in my backyard (so far that’s my work shop), I start by focusing on the bowl of the spoon. I chisel it out with some sharp gauges my father in law once gave me, then I refine the shape of the inside bowl with my hook knife, then a gooseneck cabinet scraper - a great tool for removing other tool marks. Once I am very satisfied with the contour, shape and feel of the bowl, I start slimming down everything else that at this point sits bulkily around the unfinished spoon. It is a very patience-demanding and sometimes very long stretched thought and work process. I go back and forth between many different spoons I work on simultaneously, because it makes sense to me to work in “batches.” The design of each individual piece takes me a long time to finalize. Sometimes a spoon will be lying around forever in a not too appealing incarnation and then one day, when I have the time and energy to tackle it, it comes alive and takes on its final shape. When the shape is really THERE, I start working on the finish, which is basically hours upon hours with different coarseness levels of sandpaper. Finally I treat all my spoons with ‘spoon butter,’ beeswax-infused mineral oil. And then the goat has been shaved, as I like to call it.
What’s your favorite East Fork glaze?
It would have to be the Rococo pink. It reminds me of some weird fantasy fruit and it warms my wintery Scandinavian heart!
What are the five objects that you have chosen to share with us?
My wife’s first ever coil built vase, from a ceramics class we took together in Oakland, CA. She was really frustrated with the process and almost threw it in the trash, but then stuck with it, put her amazing bathing suit ladies on it - and out came a truly wonderful piece, that we will always hold on to.
The wooden glasses were something that I sort of surprised myself with. I made them back in 2016 when I was waiting for that green card. I usually stay away from joinery, hinges etc, but they turned out ok!
First thing I ever planted and grew - successfully! A cayenne chili pepper! I love spicy stuff and with the wonderful climate here, it is now my declared goal to grow more and more interesting chili variants every year!
My hook knife: I love shaping the inside of the spoon bowl with this thing. It came with a sharpening leather strap and sharpening wax. Something I always need to remind myself of - to keep the tools sharp.
My most advanced and most crazy project ever: an aluminum skipping stone that I designed in collaboration with the Copenhagen School of Architecture. It was back in 2013 that I threw the last of my 3 annual events, named ‘The Copenhagen Stone Skipping Championships’ It is a long looooong story, but here’s the link to the event of 2011, so you can get an idea.