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The Granite

Patterned for Perfection

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It really goes back to what a great craftsperson used to do. They eliminated their mark.

__Meg & Megan

The story of The Granite begins with the tale of two Megs: Meg Drinkwater and Megan Perry. With matching fair skin, light hair, and shy reciprocating giggles, you could sooner believe they were sisters than business partners. Hailing from opposite coasts, Megan from Seattle and Meg from New Hampshire, the two fortuitously met on the service side of a bar in Portland, Oregon.

Working together grew into a friendship built on their shared interest in craft and design. After working together for over two years, their talk behind the bar led to collaborations in their off hours. “We were both really interested in lighting and objects, so we started meeting to work on projects once a week. Megan knows how to fold paper in really interesting ways, and so at first we started making these origami light shades for pendant lights.” At the time, Meg had her own studio in downtown Portland where she had begun a business making jewelry with a friend from college. “It wasn’t supposed to be a business, actually. We just starting making these earrings and we thought it would be a good way to fund our studio practice, to continue being artists and not producers.”

For Meg, making had always been the plan. After studying jewelry and metalsmithing at the University of Oregon, the business of making jewelry with a friend and actively carrying on a collaborative process seemed a natural fit. But at the time, craft wasn’t paying anybody’s bills. “In 2008 the economy was so different. The shops we were getting into at the time were closing.” It was a hard time for makers, but also the beginnings of a handmade renaissance. “The difference between 2008 and 2015 is unbelievable. Tools like Squarespace and Wix weren’t nearly as ubiquitous and user-friendly, so there was the huge upfront cost to create a website. Everything has changed so much.”

Megan’s interest and expertise in their early projects came from a background in interior design, and a longtime love of matching objects to a space. “Interior design is something I’ve always been interested in, even when I was really young. I would always organize my room a certain way, so when I was asked what do you want to be when you grow up I would wonder, is there a job where I can just decorate? I wanted to mix that with making the products for a particular space.” Megan is also responsible for the handpainted patterns you’ll find meticulously applied to many of their products. “It started with the macaroni,” she tells us with a less-than-suppressed giggle referring to the bright elbow curves on some vases stashed on their studio display shelves. “It was meant to be playful, but we make it as clean as possible. We don’t use decals on anything we have now, but I want it to looks as precise as if we did.”

 

After a year of their once a week collaborative meetups, Meg and Megan started experimenting with ceramics. They chose slip-casting based on a bit of experience Meg brought from a class she took while pursuing her BFA. From paper to clay, something switched on. “Things happened really fast once we actually started slip-casting. Even before we had any real plans, we started making pretty immediate plans. I feel like we were laying the groundwork of what became a business a little bit out of our hands. Things were moving, and we kept having to make these choices to make it keep moving.” Like coming up with a name, for instance. The Granite is a nod not only to Meg’s roots in New Hampshire (“The Granite State”), but to its credentials as – and I quote – “a really awesome rock.” Not being terribly familiar with rocks in general, Meg explained for us lay people. “So many things that used to be made of marble are now made of granite because it doesn’t wear. It’s just solid. It’s also generally three different components: quartz, feldspar, and mica. I think of that as a great picture of who we are. Art, craft, and design.” Over the past eight years, Meg has been intimately aware of the changes affecting the makers’ movement. From that first jewelry business to now she emphasizes that things couldn’t be more different this time around.

 

“We’re in a huge shift because things like Instagram and Square are making it so much more possible for more makers to really be business people. I think too that the economy rebounding has created more makers, and with that created environments where more people are creating a community around their practices.”

Before technology gave artisans a leg up, starting your own small business was more often motivated by self-reliance rather than convenience. “When the economy was tanking, people didn’t like how easily replaceable they felt, so having your own business became a way to put the control back in your own hands.” This notion of harnessing your own professional destiny brings up a unique perspective on the world of maker entrepreneurs. It represents a shift not only in what you do, but how entrepreneurs view work in general. It isn’t merely about controlling your income and your livelihood and what you do for work, but what you want to do with your life. So many have chosen to spend 40-80+ hours a week not trudging to a job that they hate, but passionately investing themselves in learning, leaning into a medium or craft they delight in. They’re spending the days, weeks, and years improving on things they love, not things that they hate.

 

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With this shift in the economic landscape and such a dramatic number of young professionals testing the waters in a more entrepreneurial stream, there is also a slow but steady demand cropping up for the handmade this and the small batch that. This value for local everything, as well, isn’t new to Portland, and is so commonly accepted that the local/handmade/artisan is superior in some invisible way. It’s the value we ascribe to handmade that fund so many artists’ and craftspersons’ practice, but Meg and Megan are pushing their process beyond the labor of love. Instead, they’ve endeavored to remove themselves from the work to allow the design to shine. “We almost want an object that doesn’t look handmade, which is the opposite of what most craftspeople want,” Meg explains.

“It really goes back to what a great craftsperson used to do. They eliminated their mark.” “In a way we just want to perfect it,” Megan echoes, “to execute so well making it by hand that it doesn’t look like it is.” And yet, when we investigate the things we own, their origins and invisible worth imbued by the care and precision of the designer, they offer a deeper joy than we expect. Although they’re slow to call out that their objects are handmade, Meg admits that those items whether they look it or not mean more to us. “They have a built-in nostalgia, even if it’s a new object to you.” Lifting her Hasami-made cup, a treasured piece in her limited

collection of personal items around the studio, she toasts to her own totems of nostalgia. Megan adds that, “It isn’t just drinking from a cup anymore. It makes you happier somehow.”

In their quest to eliminate the mark of the maker, Meg and Megan cast their molds for that first collection from expressly imperfect objects. Found objects no less, items with a mysterious past but resonant nonetheless. “This first line is a result of really getting comfortable with the materials that we chose. Our first project was our bottle vase, and I love this vase because we started with an antique creamer bottle my mom gave me. It was wonderful because the bottle itself is so imperfect. It leans to one direction, and there’s a huge seam in the glass from where it was made. It’s the most counterintuitive object to make a mold from, because when you’re making a mold you want the ideal version of the object. You’re going to make it over and over again, so every imperfection gets multiplied. The more you use the mold, the more those imperfections come out.” Meg continues, “It’s what I love about found objects, and why everything that we cast that first line from was a found object. I love the cultural signifiers that are in objects that we don’t realize we’re recognizing. The milk bottle, for instance – I wonder what it is about that shape that we find comfortable?”

 

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Getting lost in the questions their work draws them to, and the investigation of their material is what keeps The Granite moving forward with their work. “Most of our work is process oriented in a way because our backgrounds are not in ceramics. I think we approach ceramics from a more designerly perspective than a craft perspective. They’re a means to an end. Process and material are our priority.”

From their small upstairs studio in Northeast Portland, Meg and Megan have developed and designed, cast, painted, and refined. They have committed themselves to this compulsion now for over two years, and are only just beginning. “We can push our materials and process so much further critically and materially than we have,” Meg says, the two looking at each other with shared excitement. 

It’s that look of energy, a window into their partnership and the very soul of The Granite. It’s that same soul I see reflected in the meticulous patterns, invoking a sense of play, and that same soul that chose what was imperfect and made it whole.

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