Behind Ceramics That Are Like Modern-Day Folk Art

ART + CULTURE | BY | September 12, 2018
Behind The Ceramics That Are Like Modern-Day Folk Art

f you must put Tracy Madison in a category, consider her a modern-day folk artist. Though her Madisonware pieces are undeniably contemporary, the art director-turned-ceramicist sees her work as born of necessity. “I feel like folk art is about making things that you use–not so much fine art, but decorative pieces with function,” she says. “I’m into things that get used, that get washed and inspire you with color or with texture or design.”

Ceramics weren’t always Madison’s passion. Her dive into them began at the end of 2015 with a New Year’s resolution to be more creative. While she is a veteran art director and stylist, she craved a new form of expression. And, although her job can involve many artistic disciplines–namely painting and drawing–she hadn’t much explored three-dimensional media. Ceramics were doubly interesting to her, too, since she envisioned creating custom props for future photo shoots. After enrolling in classes, she quickly took to hand-building with clay rather than throwing her pieces on a wheel. “I had no preconceived notions about what I was going to do, no history in my brain,” she says.

“I really got the feeling of being a kid again.” Madison’s ceramic creations are exquisitely tactile: Her platters, bowls, plates and spoons
(often finished in subtle blues and creams, and embellished with a dizzying array of hand-done impressions) are the result of pressing materials into rolled-out, wet clay, a detail driven by her abiding interest in texture. “I have a romance with texture,” she exclaims, adding, “I’ve always collected vintage fabrics and trimmings and ribbons, so I started bringing them in to press into the clay.” She allows her materials to lead the way, relying more on instinct than best-laid plans. “I just layer and piece materials together,” she says. She might take a small swatch of fabric and create a repeat out of it and then explore ways to manipulate it until she hits on the exact right design.

The artisan’s work, now available at The London Plane, Future Nostalgia and Momo Seattle, is beautiful yet purposely elusive. “If you look at the fabric, and then you look at the piece, it’s really hard to make the connection,” says Madison. And, as a newer practitioner of the form, she is still developing her techniques, driven by instinct and inventiveness. Of late, she’s experimenting with braiding and coiling rope and devising her own patterns with string. And, at the request of designer friends, Madison is exploring tiles. “It’s all about pattern mixing but in a neutral, clean white palette,” she says. There are some group shows and makers’ markets in the future, too, but, as she expands her practice, she is committed to retaining her pieces’ handmade ethos. “I can see myself as a 70-year-old ceramicist,” she says. “If I can create something that is timeless, that would be amazing. Maybe someone will find a shard of one of my bowls in 200 years.”


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