Connect the Dots

Connect the Dots

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Host enjoys working with surface decoration so much, she's thinking about diversifying again. Her fetching designs - such as this Dot Dot Doily dinner set pattern - would make for eye-catching fabric, curtains, stationery, and more. Photo: Meredith Host

Meredith Host's perfectly patterned dishes.

It's easy to get drawn into Meredith Host's cheerful Dot Dot Dash dinnerware. Patterns fluctuate and recur in layers blooming with luscious color: turquoise washes, apricot polka dots, chartreuse bands. The effect - riotous yet refined, citrus-fresh yet almost familiar - invites the eye to linger.

If Host's beguiling work triggers a tickle of recognition, it's probably because the artist is drawing decorative inspiration from a ubiquitous source: toilet paper (and paper towels, too, for you squeamish folks). Host has been collecting these "overlooked patterns," as she calls them, for more than a decade; she estimates her cache contains about 75 motifs. For the past couple of years, she's been applying her favorites in her work.

Designs that "we see, use, and throw away every day," fascinate her, says Host, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. "These patterns are there to enhance our lives, to improve our daily routine, but because they're so prevalent they become invisible."

Yet they resonate. "Companies pick them for a reason," Host explains. "You'll see old quilt patterns, [designs] from the pierced tin sides of pie safes. All of that history plays into a pattern's sense of comfort and home."

In her thrown porcelain tableware, Host gives these domestic motifs a second, more lasting life. (And, she admits, she gets a kick out of surprising customers who don't suspect her designs' provenance.) She works the surface of each piece instinctively, applying layer upon layer of pattern and color, using paper stencils and Thermo-Fax screens (similar to silkscreens but produced with a special printer). There's even what she calls a "ghost layer," a faint underglaze pattern that enrobes the whole piece. After the glaze firing, she adds a final layer of laser decals - the more neutral, darker dots that anchor her bold palette.

Such a labor-intensive process makes for an inefficient business model, Host admits, even with her work retailing at an impressive roster of galleries, including Iowa City's AKAR Design, The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, where she grew up. But instead of changing anything about the ceramic work she clearly loves to make, Host has diversified her business model; foldedpigs is her line of repurposed restaurant tableware, porcelain dishes refreshed with witty decals.

The side business was "a complete accident," she says. While in her MFA program at Ohio State in the late 2000s, Host decaled a few plates for a school fundraiser. Nature intervened with a snowstorm. The sale was a bust, so Host posted the plates on her then-fledgling Etsy shop. "They flew off the site," she says. She credits Rebecca Harvey, the head of her graduate committee, for encouraging her to embrace the retail line. Foldedpigs supplemented Host's finances through graduate school; three years on, it's what has insulated her from needing a second job.

Of course, balancing two lines isn't easy. "Things have to take over when they need to take over," Host says. She had a surge of gallery interest in her Dot Dot Dash work earlier this year, for example, after she was recognized as an emerging artist at the 2011 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts convention. That meant she didn't take foldedpigs on the road to indie craft shows this summer as much as she has in the past. But as this holiday gift season approached, Host was preparing to ramp up both bodies of work again.

"It's been a learning experience," she says, adding that potters who make a living strictly off their work amaze her. "I'm hoping within the next couple of years that my primary work will be the breadwinner, but for now foldedpigs takes up the slack."

That said, she's certainly not complaining: "I'm just so happy to be full-time in my studio."


Julie K. Hanus is American Craft's senior editor.