Circle Back to An Early Love — Bridgette Mathews

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Bridgette Mathews became the owner of Green & Bisque Clayhouse in Pasadena (Calif.) in late 2019 — a serendipitous purchase. The clay studio is meant for ceramics artists and students of all skill levels. It offers classes in several ceramic techniques for children and adults, including wheel throwing and hand building. In this conversation with the magazine, Bridgette describes how she started doing ceramics in high school and wanted to continue in college but couldn’t because her school didn’t offer it. It wasn’t until much later that she came back to ceramics. Now, she especially loves the social aspect of it. Bridgette found a way to combine business with her desire to work with people that share her love of ceramics through Green & Bisque. (The name comes from two terms in pottery: “greenware” and “bisque” firing.) – Emma Rose

How did you get involved with Green & Bisque Clayhouse?

I knew this business when I was in high school. Back then it was called Xiem Clay Center. One of my ceramics teachers had a program here, so I would come in the summer. Now, he’s actually a teacher here again, Joseph Lee. I did ceramics all through high school, and wanted to continue in college, but where I went (ArtCenter College of Design) didn’t offer ceramics back then. So, it ended up taking me many, many years to get back into ceramics. Things eventually lined up: my parents sold a property nearby and were looking to buy another property. This ceramic studio was up for sale, and it ended up working out. They bought the building and I bought the business, since they’re separate entities.

Do you depend on the Clayhouse for your income?

It’s a business I enjoy running, but no, I have another business as a graphic designer. I work with trial attorneys, designing presentations for evidence they have to present to jurors. And I love that too, but I always kind of wanted to work in hospitality, and that’s what I get to do here. That’s the kind of service we want to provide. I really enjoy my staff here.

How much of a cash reserve do you set aside to operate this business?

You can never have too much money available. With our membership system here, it’s very steady. Every month we have a certain amount of money that comes in for sure, and that at least will cover my payroll. It doesn’t cover everything because there’s insurance, there’s tax, there’s air conditioning, there’s a whole load of stuff to pay for, but we have steady income.

How important is it to you and the artists who come here to have this dedicated studio for the work, as opposed to the home?

For this kind of art, you really need a dedicated studio. There are too many different kinds of specialized, large, expensive firing equipment to do this anywhere else. This is pretty much the only option if you want to be a potter, even as a hobby. A lot of our studio members sell their work; it’s their business. For working artists, it’s much better for them to have a studio. I mean, you saw the kilns — all the glazes, all the materials that go into it.

Can anyone come and make art at your studio or is there more to it than that?

We can’t just let anybody in. There is a pretty tight vetting process because we work with expensive, dangerous equipment and have a strict firing schedule but the artists we do allow have access to practice outside of class. We trust that they know the rules and know what they’re doing. People really depend on our firing schedule to run smoothly. It all has to be a well-oiled machine

How has the pandemic affected the Clayhouse?

People definitely have been appreciating the visceral, physical relationship with the clay and with themselves. We were already so digital, but the pandemic has made us even more so. Students of the Clayhouse keep saying, “Oh, it’s so good to be here.” In terms of the business, in this last year and a half, two years, there have been challenges, but I welcome it. I just figure that if we can make it through the pandemic, we can make it through anything. There’s a lot of comfort in knowing that.

What advice would you give artists looking to run their own business?

I was very lucky that this place is a mature business. I didn’t start from scratch. I’ve only expanded on it and developed it further. Also, I have a lot of backup. I have two studio directors, three lab techs and we really work well as a group.

Conversations with Jess Lo. Written by Emma Rose. Edited by Eugenia Macias.

Cover Art by Sarah Emory. Brand Design by Meghan Hricak.