Mimi McPartlan is just starting her career—although you would never know it from her work, which sings with the singular vision and technical strength of a mature artist.
McPartlan was born and raised in Brewster. While she says she was more “crafty than arty” growing up, McPartlan took a ceramics class at Nauset High School almost by mistake. “I was late signing up for classes and got stuck with wheel throwing and painting,” she says. The pottery wheel captivated her, and she has been working in clay ever since. She participated in the Cape Cod Museum of Art’s school to careers program where she was paired with Matt Kemp of Kemp Pottery. “He was really, really awesome,” she says of Kemp. “I made the best pieces in my portfolio with those guys, Matt and Steve Kemp. They are two people who are really making it work—creating functional pottery and making a living doing it.”
McPartlan’s most recent work is slip-cast porcelain functional ware. Her forms are fleshy, round, and bulbous. “I have been calling the sides of my forms the love handles. There’s a tension in the fullness—like the feeling when you squeeze a balloon,” McPartlan explains. “I want to make something that I want to use and touch. When you’re carrying it, it should feel comfortable.” The soft white of the porcelain and the delicious candy hues of her glazes—reminiscent of a strip of candy dots—make her pieces distinctly alluring. They draw you in to touch and cradle in your hands.
McPartlan has been making functional—and sometimes dysfunctional—pieces: A matching tray, jar, and spoon for eating Nerds (the candy); a ceramic sippy cup. “I like ridiculous ideas and parts that fit together,” she says.
Of her colors, McPartlan says her friends and teachers would joke because she was always thinking of candy. “I started to see how the colors people use are similar to the way they dress—a reflection of themselves,” she says. For her, it was candy and sweets. “I have a picture in my studio of an old Friendly’s ad. It looks like a mountain, but it’s just scoops of sherbet. I had a really big palette and then I narrowed it down to what I would call my citrus sherbet colors.”
After graduating in 2012 from Alfred University, which has one of the country’s well regarded ceramics programs, McPartlan started her professional journey with a stint in New York City, working as an assistant for KleinReid, a ceramic design studio. This past spring, she spent four weeks in an artist residency in Germany. While she is currently on the move, she is looking forward to reconnecting with some old studio mates who share her passion for creating beautiful, functional work. “I love things that have a use. I love using handmade things. It’s such a cool feeling—I can make something out of clay that I can use everyday, it will be mine, and I can make it just the way I want it,” she says. She is equally enthralled with the idea of being able to share her work with others. “Making functional ceramics is a very genuine thing,” she says. “I really love creating an experience for someone.”