Mudshark and Red Clay
Image: Kristin Belz

The Spinners: Mudshark’s Chris Lyon works the lathe to meet the specifications of Red Clay’s Ashley Etling in manufacturing the winning vase design from Red Clay’s national online ceramics design contest.

The global reach of the online community is fantastic, and computers and the Internet have expanded our horizons in a zillion positive ways. But sometimes, you just have to get physical. Like when you eat or drink. Or, say, cut flowers for a bouquet. A digital photo of flowers on your desktop screensaver is great, but a bevy of crimson dahlias, bursting out of a ceramic vase on your actual desk? Well, truth be told, I’ll take both.

And that’s what Mudshark Studios and Red Clay seem to be saying in their current collaboration. Red Clay is a company whose home is online literally and physically: the principals live in Oakland and in Arkansas. They exist in cyberspace as a virtual community of like-minded designers and design-lovers.

Meanwhile, Mudshark is housed on a quiet street in Northeast Portland. It is a bursting-at-the-seams, plaster-dusted studio that manufactures ceramics products, including making the myriad molds and models used in the production process. Now, Red Clay’s virtual world is meeting Mudshark’s physical world to create a vase, a bowl, and a plate, all of which will look beautiful and feel wonderful in our hands.

Red Clay’s ceramics contest is its second competition since launching (with a textile design challenge) in the spring. The idea is that they will run four contests a year. Winning designs are chosen online and then Red Clay handles the manufacturing and selling process to bring the winners to market.

Mudshark started with two young fresh fellows who went to art school and met while both were working at a pottery production studio. Brett Binford and Chris Lyon decided in 2006 to try to do it for themselves. With a grant from Mercy Corps, they purchased a kiln and started to fire. And also to mold and model. When you move beyond throwing a single item on a pottery wheel, the ceramics production process gets a bit complicated, requiring many steps and many hands to touch a single mug, for example, before it is ready to hold our morning coffee. They’ve got eight employees with them now.

Mudshark’s clients range from Portland locals Schoolhouse Electric, McMenamin’s, and Ann Sacks tiles, to New York City’s Bailey Doesn’t Bark (who make fabulous mugs, by the way). They hope to relocate soon to a 17,000 square foot facility near the twirling milk carton we all know as the Sunshine Dairy. The new space would triple their capacity. We will definitely check in with them again.