Connie Matisse: East Fork co-founder, chief marketing officer, determiner of future glaze colors and never the subject of a Clay Buddies post? Let’s fix that.
Connie, you’ll laugh if I ask you to describe an “average day” for you at HQ because I know there’s no such thing. So, can you walk us through some of the things that you do and are part of in any given week?
Alex and John have been encouraging me to hire more folks for the marketing team for years now, but my martyr tendencies got me into a bad habit of not making my needs known to my co-founders, for fear of looking like I couldn’t do it with the resources I already had available. Ridiculous! I’m over that now, and actively trying to expand my Creative and Marketing Teams so that I can get out of the weeds a bit. All that to say that stuff I’m doing right now includes a whole lot of stuff I hope to not be doing soon!
Let’s see, this week I...
Lead a conversation with a D2C apparel brand about a collaboration we’re cooking up for fall, filed a Creative Brief with concepts for an upcoming New York Times print ad campaign, sat on many hours of calls with our web developer who’s rebuilding our site top to bottom, worked with my Executive Team to assess and adjust 2021 sales goals and make a decision about our capital fundraising campaign, reviewed copy for newsletters, reviewed podcast ad packages, gave final sign-off on our Taro glaze, tried to get to work on a decision-making matrix for the Creative and Marketing teams, had lots of 1:1s with my direct reports, and many more things!
What do you wish your work days had more of? What about less?
Fewer meetings, more long stretches of meeting-free time to dig into the strategy and systems work that I always have to backburner. Even though I think I’m more known for my creative inputs at the company, I really enjoy thinking about leadership and management, and being able to take a bird’s eye view of conflict in the company so I can follow the threads to the root causes and figure out solutions to make information flow better. I love this stuff and I hope to get to do more of it soon.
What are you most excited about these days in life outside of work?
We bought our first house and all I want to do is moodboard and plant a garden and light fires and nest!
On my first day at East Fork, I was given a Mug in Morel: your favorite glaze ever. Forever ever? Do you vacillate between Morel and others? Also, can you put into words why you love it so much?
It’s true, I love it so much! It was one of the first colors we ever developed for the gas kiln. I loved it then and I love it now! I’ve never found a color it didn’t look lovely with. I love that it’s humble and unassuming. It’s not trying to show off. It reminds me of the ethos we took to making pots in the wood kiln—how can you pare down a form to its most fundamental elements so that it has nothing to hide behind? Morel’s not trying to distract you or center itself. There’s a more balanced conversation between form and color happening on pots in Morel. My Libra sun says “Gimme beauty, but give me balance!”
You grew up in California but you haven’t lived there since you graduated from college, right? What do you miss the most about your home state?
I miss driving over Laurel Canyon and dropping into West Hollywood, a pile of fried fish at Neptune’s Net after a morning of surfing 2nd point in Malibu, the Santa Ana winds, how clear my skin gets after a few weeks of desert air, being tan, succumbing to 405 traffic and just enjoying alone time in the car, being surrounded by Spanish speakers, Modelos at the Norwood (my neighborhood bar), Cupid’s Hot Dogs, the mix of orange flower and jasmine and eucalyptus and bay and rosemary, Tiki bars, good shopping, the sizzle of wet concrete on a 110 degree day, my mom, my dad, my brother, all of it.
How deep are your roots in Los Angeles? I selfishly hope your answer includes the story about your grandfather on the horse. Who are the people you visit when you go back there?
Those roots run deep! My grandfather was born in Arcadia, Los Angeles, in 1920. His family moved there from Jalisco in 1898. Los Angeles had only been a city for about 20 years! They worked on ranches and were back and forth between Mexico and Los Angeles throughout the Great Depression, going wherever there was work. My grandpa Joe met my grandma Connie when his family was passing through her town. He was 12 and she was 9. He told her he’d come back for her and together they’d move to Los Angeles and sure enough he did. When he was 19 he scooped her up on the back of his horse and they rode over 1,000 miles from Camargo to Los Angeles, where they settled and had four children. My mom was the baby of the family—17 years younger than her oldest brother—and still lives in Los Angeles today, just a couple miles from where she and I grew up.
Both of my dad’s parents were also born in Los Angeles. His mom’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1923 and his dad’s in 1914. He was born in Watts and raised in South Central, then moved to the San Fernando Valley where he met my mom and where I was born.
I grew up smack dab in the middle of The Valley, right under the 405 freeway. That place still feels super central to my identity. After my maternal grandma died we stopped getting together as an extended family as much, so when I go home it’s always straight to my parent’s house, where my brother lives, too.
What foods or dishes seem to transport you there?
Nothing tastes like home except home wahhhh!
What are the five objects that you’re sharing with us? What is the story behind each of them?
I’m so sorry! I couldn’t do it! I picked 6!
Photo of my Grandma—I cherish this photo of my little baby grandma, Concepción Apodaca, with all the other children from her village. The beautiful woman in the middle is the school teacher, who taught children of all ages. My grandma wasn’t actually enrolled in school, but the teacher, who had come from another village to teach, was living in my grandma’s parents house, so Grandma got to have her photo taken on picture day. When I was younger I was so enamored by the beautiful teacher. I loved her hair and her lips and her outfit. I’d try to style my hair just like hers. I just wanted to look exactly like her!
Dolphin Skull—One time I convinced my dad to take a week off work, fly to Brooklyn, pick up my friend’s 1961 Chevy Apache, and drive it to North Carolina. Someone had to do it! My dad is always game for a long and lonely drive, even in a truck that can hardly hit 50. He stopped in Maryland on the way down and found this skull on the beach and brought it to me as a gift. It was still pretty smelly! It was at least a year in the sun before it felt sunbleached enough to hang over my bed, where it’s been ever since.
Silver Palate Good Times—Flipping through this book brings me back to the heart of my childhood, when my mom was working as a lawyer, raising four kids, and still finding time to host everyone’s wedding shower, baby shower, rehearsal dinner, Bat Mitzvah, birthday, and Secretary’s Day. There wasn’t a holiday she didn’t celebrate with bells and whistles, soup to nuts, two or three totes in the garage with decorations to match a theme. In middle school my friends would wake up from a sleepover to find a lace-dressed table overflowing with fresh scones, three types of jam, clotted cream, lemon curd, dainty little glasses for fresh squeezed orange juice, thick cut bacon covered in maple syrup, hot cocoa served in her fine china, and an arrangement of herbs and flowers and citrus from her yard. No one can throw a party like my mom, except for maybe Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins, and me :)
Articulated Snake Cuff—This is one of the first gifts Alex ever gave me. He saw it in a catalogue mailer announcing an estate sale, and took the day off work to make sure he was the one who took it home. He knew I’d love it more than anyone else in the world. I wore it for our rehearsal dinner in a floor length gold dress and my hair in a bouffant and fake eyelashes and had to yoink my breast out of my very tight bodice to nurse my baby during the whole event. I’d never felt more beautiful or powerful.
Photo of Grandpa Joe—I love this photo of my grandfather so much. His proud stance, his lean body, his grin, his head and hat tipped back. My Grandpa Joe was a singular human. He worked as a sewer layer and contractor, but he was an artist in the truest sense of the word. He’d pick charcoal from the barbecue the day after a party and sketch our profiles in his notebooks. He’d be pouring concrete for a patio and scoop some out of the mixer to make face sculptures that he’d engrave on the back and then tuck under the cactus and apricot trees in his backyard. He made lemon doughnuts and pizza and baked bread. Told jokes that made no sense, wrote little poems in margins of books, drank hot milk with just a drop off coffee, dug clams on the beach to make chowder. This picture captures a humble, kind, quietly confident man with a rich, unknowable interior life. Ugh, I miss him!
Humble Lil’ Mug—This is one of the only pieces of pottery that I ever made. When Alex first built the workshop out in Madison County he was so focused and sure of who he was and what he wanted to do while I was caught in a swirl of existential crises. I got it in my head one day that I just needed to get really good at pottery too and the two of us could have some romantic life together as studio mates and creative collaborators. Ha! I was an insecure but ready to fight little lass in my early 20s, so trying to learn a new skill with Alex as my teacher was basically a recipe for disaster. I had no capacity to be open for feedback from him back then, and he had no patience for my tantrums. Fair enough. I threw in the pottery-making towel pretty quickly and instead used the skills I already had to take Alex’s pottery-making fantasy and co-create something really beautiful and special. Working alongside Alex to build this business and become the people we’re becoming have been my life’s greatest and most rewarding challenges.