Christopher Mathie '94: Making It Big - In More Ways than One

By Anette Halverson

Christopher Mathie ’94 is facing the challenges that come with international fame. Only five years after graduating with honors from Puget Sound in fine arts, his pottery business is booming.

Mathie said he must now grasp the delicate balance between running a successful business and maintaining his skill and creativity. But he is also exhilarated and honored by the popularity of his masterpieces.

Recently, the Port of Tacoma commissioned Mathie’s work for the grand opening of Washington United Terminals Inc.

Mathie’s Raku pottery was recommended to Port officials by Phyllis Harrison, owner of the Art Stop, one of several galleries in the Northwest where Mathie’s pieces are shown.

"Christopher is an amazing talent, and I think he is going to go a long way," Harrison said.

Such recognition is only the latest in a spate of international acclaim for Mathie.

In 1997, the Port of Tacoma bought three pieces of his pottery as an anniversary gift for its sister port in Vladivostok, Russia. Last year the Seattle Arboretum commissioned 16 enormous hanging Raku flower pots.

But Mathie said it hasn’t always been this way. The art industry can be a feast or famine business by character, he said.

"I’m pleased, but I have had to learn how to deal with it," he said. "I’m trying to maintain a level of creativity. By nature I am an artist, not a business man."

Raku pottery incorporates metals into the glazing process and a smoke oxidation process. The clay is fired at a lower temperature--1,825 degrees--than regular pottery. The pieces are taken out of the kiln while they are still glowing orange and sealed in a barrel with burning paper.

After 20 minutes, the trapped smoke and absence of oxygen create a reaction called reduction. The glazed areas become metallic and the unglazed clay has a smoked appearance. The finished product is scrubbed of all smoke residues.

These days he often works 12- to 15-hour days to keep up with the six galleries that sell his pottery. Four galleries are waiting for his art. He’s had to make a few changes to keep up with the demand.

"With the added tension and pressure from success, I need an outlet," Mathie said. "That’s why I’m working on bigger commissions."

Mathie has expanded his staff to five artisan assistants who help create and glaze smaller pieces. Items made by assistants are noted with the phrase by "Mathie Pottery" somewhere on the piece. If it’s made by Mathie himself, it has his signature.

There have been a few other changes in Mathie’s life as well. One in particular has had a positive influence on his work. Mathie recently moved his studio from Pioneer Way in Gig Harbor, Wash., to the Key Peninsula. His new studio occupies the entire basement of the waterfront house he rents on Case Inlet. Mathie said the natural surroundings help him develop ideas for new pieces.

This article originally appeared in The Peninsula Gateway and is reprinted with permission.