August 09, 2016

Artist Edition Ceramic Growlers: Mitchell Spain

It was summer 1980-something when my family hopped into our Plymouth K and rumbled from Portland, Oregon to small-town Iowa for a family reunion. Raised in the rolling green of the Willamette Valley, the Midwest entranced me with its edge-of-the-world horizon and seemingly endless supply of cool old stuff. Everything told a story, held together by a rich history I’d only read about in books.

Discovering the work of Iowa-based ceramicist Mitchell Spain threw me back into the sticky vinyl backseat of our little sedan that (mostly) could and the wide-eyed wonder of being a kid itching to explore.

Mitchell spent his childhood spelunking junk piles and tilting barns for the rusted-out leftovers of rural life. Along with the furniture and other remodeling projects his dad crafted out of their finds, the objects he unearthed inspired him to pursue his own creative work. Crumbling labels, dirt-eaten odds and ends, all those things that used to have a clear purpose, even household-name identities, took on new life in his imagination and hands.

Mitchell Spain Studio and Sculptures

His collection of vintage-inspired oil can-look growlers mix what he calls “the perfect canvas” with considered application techniques and color schemes for a killer hand-crafted vessel.

History buffs, artisans, and beer aficionados take note: This collection of retro oil company logos tells a story worth raising a glass to. SinclairGulf, and Esso, all debuted around the dawn of the automobile, a technological leap that changed the way we thought about transportation, introducing us to the scenic drive, the road trip, a new way to get from Oregon to Iowa. It was one of those “simpler” times. You know, when the latest rage took the world by storm and brought us closer together.

Mitchell still works from the junk-built foundation he forged as a kid, with a grown-up sensibility that brings fresh insight into how these found objects fit into their original social context and what that means for us today. He incorporates distressing techniques into his work to highlight the imperfections and wear unique to those pieces from his past, and in doing so, works a bygone life into his trompe l’oeil ceramic objects. 

Mitchell Spain Slip Casting Ceramics

More About Mitchell
Mitchell Spain was born and raised in central Iowa, which is where much of the subject matter for his work is derived. He earned his BFA in Ceramics from the University of Iowa in 2012 and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Kansas. For a more detailed description and photos of the process, visit Mitchell Spain Ceramics.

Growing up on the family farm south of Des Moines, Iowa, Mitchell Spain spent much of his childhood rummaging through "junk" left in old barns. Today, he is an accomplished artist crafting high-quality ceramic works using a trompe l'oeil technique that mimics these rustic findings. Creating new uses for old things, practicing environmental friendliness, and designing sweet stuff for you all is his jam.

Stay tuned for our next post with a glimpse behind the scenes at Mitchell's process.


Shop The Mitchell Spain Collection now and check out his matching porcelain flasks.