At Opinel we’ve long admired the simple, beautiful ceramic dinnerware coming from the minds (and hands) of the folks at East Fork Pottery. With a mutual dedication to manufacturing and integrity, and a shared connection of family and heritage brands, we’re celebrating our kinship with the makers at East Fork.
In 2009, after finishing an apprenticeship with legendary potter, Mark Hewitt, Alex Matisse purchased a property at the end of a little dirt road in Madison County, North Carolina, where he built a 36 foot long wood-burning kiln.
Just before he started laying bricks, he met his future wife, Connie. She was 24, aimless, a little feral, working on a dairy farm on Tennessee border—and all that first winter and spring Alex told Connie about the wood-burning kiln he’d build from bricks, and drew pictures of the workshops he’d put up, with dirt floors and handmade ware racks, and his eyes got big when he described the pots he’d make and about this ravenous group of pottery collectors who’d show up right there in their backyard ready to load up their cars with jars and rundlets and pitchers and bowls. Four years later their friend, fellow potter and later CFO, John Vigeland, came out for a weekend and they got to talking. Alex and John, both studied under master North Carolina potters where they learned their scales, so to speak, making runs of dozens and even hundreds of the same form, each one striving toward some hard-to-define ideal—a pleasant rounding on the lip, a perky foot, walls elegant, even, and sturdy.
East Fork began as one potter, then two, then a few more, throwing clay and filling a wood-fired kiln on an old tobacco farm in Madison County, North Carolina. Before they had stores and a website, they had pottery sales on the farm. Much has changed in the last decade, but their early days laid the foundation for the company they are today.
When Alex bought the old tobacco farm in 2009, he had no idea it would lead to all of this. He only knew that he wanted to make “pots,” and that to do it in the way that he wanted, he needed to be in the countryside, where the smoke from the occasional firing of the wood-kiln wouldn’t upset the neighbors or attract the fire department. Alex bought the farm, complete with a falling down barn, ramshackle farmhouse, and outhouse, without a thought of what he would call the pottery. The name, he trusted, would come to him.
The story behind the name itself is pretty pedestrian: East Fork was the name of the community where the farm was located. The name had a sense of expanse and mystery to it. The East Fork of what? It conjured visions of valleys and watersheds, opening out into an unknown horizon.
There are East Forks all over the world; almost every river has one. In this case, it was the East Fork of Bull Creek, a small mountain stream that drains the larger Grapevine Community in eastern Madison County. The reality is often not as grand when the curtain is pulled back.
The more interesting (and loaded) question was why, with such a recognizable last name, Alex didn’t name the pottery after himself but the answer to this is also quite simple: he wanted to make something that would stand on its own, separate from what at the time felt like an omnipresent and inescapable family legacy. Alex didn’t want the name of the thing he was going to build to constantly remind people of someone else, even if that reminder was of one of the most famous painters in the world. He wanted it to have the freedom to become something solitary in how it stood in the world.
From 2009 until 2015 East Fork was just Alex and John and a couple of apprentices and early team members making and selling wood-fired pottery in a Southern folk vernacular at twice-yearly kiln sales and crafts shows across the state, with Connie sticking her camera across everyone’s wheel and posting about what they were up to on social media.
East Fork sits at a unique and challenging intersection of small-scale artisan workshop and large-scale industrial ceramic production. They are potters at their core. At the onset, they made pots from minimally refined materials and fired those pots in a large, wood-burning kiln, and since then, so much has changed. They’ve grown and scaled, and yet the rubric for a pot’s goodness has stayed steady—the work should be beautiful and functional.
As a proudly Certified B Corporation, the distinction speaks to their accomplishments in making business decisions that speak to their values and holds them accountable to the work that lies ahead in terms of working for the betterment of their employees, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.
East Fork is Climate Neutral Certified, the standard earned by companies that offset and reduce all of their greenhouse gas emissions.
From their factory and headquarters to their warehouse and retail stores in Asheville and Atlanta, the East Fork workforce is made up of 100+ hourly and salaried employees. When it comes to wages, everyone there makes at least $20 an hour and they have plans to raise this minimum wage again to what MIT has calculated as a family living wage in Buncombe County, North Carolina.
East Fork partners with local non-profit, grassroots organizations and individuals working toward racial equity, community reconciliation, and supporting the liberation of folks who’ve been systematically oppressed by white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity. Describing their work in newsletters and on social media platforms, East Fork uses raffles, auctions and enticements to their customers to make donations to gain access to discounted pottery.
East Fork and Opinel are joining together to offer one lucky winner the ultimate four person dinner set. Whether you’re having last night’s leftovers or entertaining friends, this dinner set featuring 4 East Fork dinner plates (in the core glaze of your choosing), and a 16 piece set of the new Perpétue Flatware collection from Opinel will elevate any meal!
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