Local MSU Alumni-Owned Business Dishes With Soul in a Class By Itself

Tuesday Sep. 30th, 2014

Pottery has always invoked an emotional response from me. I think it’s my vision of those artists’ hands personally molding each piece. It could be the knowledge that they have invested their passion, their vision and their time into creating a piece of art that I can enjoy every day; products that haven’t been made in a factory to be sold at a big box store. It brings me such a feeling of joy to be able to incorporate art into everyday life and not just from a piece hanging on the wall, I have always had a strong fondness for handmade ceramics.

Dishes with Soul, created and owned by Bozeman resident Meredith Bird Rivers, is a different class of handmade. As any well done art should, Dishes with Soul dinnerware speaks to you. It says “handcrafted”, whispers “earthy” and screams “elegantly modern”. These dishes are as versatile as they are beautiful. They have been created to be as comfortable holding morning cereal on a screen porch at sunrise as they are presenting a lavish dinner party by candlelight. These crisp, white dishes with unconventional edges draw your eye and captivate you.
I met Meredith Bird Rivers sixteen years ago. We met while serving in AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps. Meredith was young, eager and so full of spirit that I was drawn to her from the moment we met. She was already an artist yet she had not found which artistic realm she truly belonged in. Even though I was exactly five years older than she was (we are birthday twins) our conversations always left me inspired. She had such a wonderful outlook on life and was young enough that she had not been caught yet by the shadows that follow you in adulthood.

After our time together in AmeriCorps, I remained on the East Coast while Meredith became a Californian for a while before being called to the mountains of Montana. She attended Montana State University, earned her degree in Fine Arts and found her creative niche. As if she didn’t have enough going on at that time, she also became a mom to a beautiful little girl who changed her life completely. Her daughter’s birth made her drive and desire to create a life making art became more than a dream. She began to make it her reality.  She is now a work-at-home mom of two and is busy growing her business every day. I sat down with Meredith (virtually) to find out a little more about her work and her future plans.

When did you first start doing pottery? Was this something you always wanted to learn?

“I first started working with clay in high school. When I found out there was a pottery class, I signed up immediately. I’ve been hooked ever since. Clay wasn’t something I had dreamed of working with but I was always swayed toward 3D and the making of an object or thing rather than drawing or painting. Though I did those as well. My dad is a woodworker so it came naturally to want to manipulate a material into something useful.”

Your work has changed dramatically from your earlier work until now. Can you pinpoint anything that brought about these changes?

“I threw on the potter’s wheel a lot in college but hand-building was always my first love. I learned to throw so I could add it to my tool box, but eventually I went back to hand-building, most recently with slabs. I think the change was, in a sense, reclaiming my preferred method of making and the technique I was naturally drawn to. Plus, I was always a messy thrower and hand-building is much cleaner – important when you have kids!”

You see a lot of ceramic ware that is either very colorful or more earth tones. What lead you to white?

“I’m drawn to white mostly because it’s calming. There are certain colors I love, but white is so clean and crisp and fresh and modern. Food always looks good on white, no matter what it is. I’ve had clients who are chefs and food stylists for this reason. Maybe because I have a creative mind that is always “on”, but I feel that our lives are so busy and full of color already. Imagine a table with the day’s mail, school papers, phone, keys, kids’ toys, receipts – you get the idea. A colorful piece of dinnerware is just going to add to the chaos, it will compete in a way. White against a colorful background will stand out. That’s what I want – a breath of fresh air, a pause. It’s like in fashion, neutrals go with everything.”

How much of your dinnerware do you have in your own kitchen?

“We have tons of my dinnerware in our kitchen! We always test everything I make. Some things I won’t have high hopes for and then we end up reaching for those pieces over and over. I try to make things that are not only useful, but that fill a niche, so kitchen testing is very useful.”

You were going to school and working on your ceramics when you had your first child. Where did you find the energy and drive to do all that?

“When I had my daughter I was in about year eight of the ten-year-plan for my Bachelor’s degree. I had started college in San Diego but due to life circumstances like relocating a handful of times, it wasn’t until I moved to Bozeman that I resumed classes for good. So when my daughter was born in 2010, I only had about four classes left before earning my Bachelor’s of Fine Arts Degree. She definitely motivated me to hurry up and finish college because now I had other things, and a person, to take care of. It was hard being a single mom and a student, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I learned how to prioritize and spent my time thinking about what was next for us. I think that helped me keep things in perspective.”

What words of advice would you give to someone who wishes to follow their dream of making their art be their profession but is scared?

“My advice would be to hone your craft, pinpoint your “why”, don’t be afraid to try an idea, and keep an open mind so you can learn as much as you can. Work out the bugs so you have a product you truly believe in and are proud of. Making a living with art can be very scary because you are putting your heart and soul out there into the world. If you believe in what you are doing and have put in the work, you can temper any criticism and keep yourself motivated. Knowing the “why” you are doing what you are doing, what your goals are and what is unique about your approach will set you apart from your competition and get you out of bed in the morning. If you get an idea, try it! If it isn’t great, move on. It’s that simple. Lastly notice trends, be a sponge and always be willing to be a student.”

What do you want Dishes with Soul to be like in five years?

“In five years, my youngest child will be in kindergarten and I don’t want to have to go out and get a “real” job! My financial goal is that Dishes with Soul will provide a comfortable supplemental income for my family. I’d like to wholesale for a handful of larger niche retailers like Anthropologie and Garnet Hill while having a successful online business and local customer base. I was just telling my husband I’d love to throw an annual ticketed, catered and professionally photographed event with invitation-only vendors where everything is served on Dishes with Soul. I’d also love to do open studio events and possible (eventually) offer creative-entrepreneurial business building consulting.”

Dishes with Soul has been selected by Martha Stewart and her panel of judges as a finalist in the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards in the crafts category. Martha Stewart’s American Made is a nationally recognized awards program that celebrates new rising stars of the growing nationwide maker community who have turned their passions for handcrafted, well-designed goods into small businesses and proudly make their products in America.

Vote for Dishes with Soul starting Sept. 15th at marthastewart.com/americanmade and help this small, woman-owned company from Bozeman, MT earn recognition by Martha Stewart’s American Made and be celebrated on a national platform.    

To learn more about Dishes with Soul, check out their website: www.disheswithsoul.com or at these social media sites:
Etsy: disheswithsoul.etsy.com
Instagram: instagram.com/disheswithsoulceramics
Pinterest: pinterest.com/disheswithsoul
 Facebook: facebook.com/disheswithsoul

Written by Lindsay Mize Onofrio