Portland's Lulu Ceramics: Making a Case for the Everyday Handmade
The movement of all things handmade is resurfacing, thankfully. As you walk into Lulu Ceramics retail space, you can feel the shift from production-line quality back to earth—back to clay, specifically. The sun glints off her most recent pieces, as well as her collection of potted succulents, enjoying the winter sun through the south-facing window.
Louise (Lulu) Bilodeau is the owner and one-woman operator of Lulu Ceramics located in South Portland, where she designs the Lulu Ceramics’ collection to enhance peoples' enjoyment of home and hearth by offering beautiful, personalized pottery that is made for everyday use. Bilodeau takes great pride in crafting each piece from start to finish.
There is a different feel to anything handmade. You pick it up, turn it over, try to imagine the work, craft, and skill that went into it. In Bilodeau’s shop, each piece has a different purpose; one tumbler fits into my palm perfectly. I see a platter and immediately think of a friend’s housewarming party and the food that will be proudly displayed in that dish for years to come.
Now, people are not only paying attention to where their food comes from, but also how it’s being presented. It comes in waves, this thought pattern that wonders aloud about where a particularly extraordinary cut of beef came from or the appealing dish that holds it, bringing hosts and their guests closer to not just their community, but also each other.
Perhaps a pork roast set in the middle of a handmade platter will taste delicious, but its striking presentation coaxes you to think less about consuming it and more about the time spent creating it—a practice of appreciation and being present in the moment.
Bilodeau is encouraged to see a new generation supporting the handmade movement, as well as a resurgence in all generations. Some people are just getting their feet wet with handmade, being more purposeful about where their home items come from, while others are simply returning to it, while conjuring up memories of their childhood and a treasured grandparent’s house.
Bilodeau walked into Sawyer Street Studios, home to Lulu Ceramics, as a high-school student and saw her future. She felt like she belonged in this space. She started as an apprentice, and eventually became an owner of this shared space. The space has been in these makers’ hands for almost 30 years.
Bilodeau considers it an honor to produce useful art that people utilize in their daily lives. When she first began selling her pottery, she thought about what qualities she wanted her line to have, and decided that her ceramics should serve two purposes: To be useful, and also to encourage an appreciation for the food and warmth that should make up home and family life. A sense of hygge is present, both in her workspace and retail shop, as well as in the bowls that I take home to share with my own family.
"The biggest compliment is when someone tells me that their Lulu Ceramics mug is their favorite mug and they can't drink their coffee in anything else," says Bilodeau.
A large part of Bilodeau’s business is custom work. She uses antique letter stamps to create pieces with names, sayings, and dates that are unique to the customer. Bilodeau works with customers to pick glaze colors and textures that work in their homes, and understands that the right plate makes food look appealing, enhances a meal, and adds an intangible experience to the space you return to at the end of each day.
People will tell Bilodeau about their cherished mugs, how each spoke to them, and how coffee somehow tastes good only when drinking from that mug. For these customers, their mug holds different warmth.
As with most of us, time is Bilodeau’s biggest challenge. Between juggling the making and creating of the pieces to the never-ending task list that makes up the business aspect of her job, all while balancing family life with two teen girls, one can understand that Bilodeau wants her work to have a purpose in your life, as much as it does hers.
Tips for a new artist:
- “Be true to your aesthetic.
- There is an obvious need to make a living. There is the temptation to make what is on trend and pressure to make what is saleable, but people will ultimately respond to the work that you feel good making.”
- “Find your niche/audience.
- I spent years learning who and where my work sold best. This takes lots of trial and error and trying different avenues. I’ve done huge wholesale shows, small-to-large retails shows, farmers’ markets, pop-ups, you name it. Every avenue is worth trying because of the valuable information and feedback from each venue.”