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After a pandemic hiatus, beloved Hell’s Kitchen pottery studio Mud Matters is back in action and open for classes and workshops starting this week.
Going into its sixth year, Mud Matters (654 10th Ave — corner of W46th St) was originally known as Mud, Sweat, and Tears and had been a neighborhood fixture for over 35 years when its owner fell ill. A studio member approached the owners of nearby Chelsea studio La Mano (110 W26th St bw 6/7th Ave), Peggy Clarke and Julie Hadley, in hopes that they would take over operations and keep the cherished community center open. Clarke and Hadley agreed, stewarding Mud Matters into its new era until the onset of COVID-19.
As with many local businesses, the “two-week pause” extended far longer into 2020 and COVID restrictions began to take their toll — forcing Clarke, Hadley, and studio manager David Hollingsworth to consider closing permanently in January 2021. “Passersby noticed us cleaning up,” anxiously asking the staff about the future of the studio, said co-owner Julie Hadley.
One Hell’s Kitchen resident concerned over the future of Mud Matters was Yana Berman Vinogradov, a senior manager of quality and safety at Sloan Kettering and an artist who moved to the area specifically to join the studio. “I looked for pottery studios first, and then apartments,” says Vinogradov, who began practicing pottery over a decade ago to relieve the stress of her job as a critical care nurse. Working with clay “is my psychotherapy — it’s cheaper to pay for a ceramic studio than to pay for psychotherapy.” She found the Mud Matters community warm and welcoming. “I’ve met a lot of great people from all walks of life — from Wall Street bankers to fashion designers to architects — I’ve made some great friends,” she adds.
Jeffrey LeFrancois, a Hell’s Kitchen resident and Executive Director of the Meatpacking District Management Association, agrees. LeFrancois has been creating pottery for over 20 years, many of them at Mud Matters and its predecessor Mud, Sweat, and Tears. “It’s a very supportive and communal environment, even though we’re all making our own pieces. We laugh a lot and it really feels like a neighborhood spot,” says LeFrancois. Vinogradov agrees, noting that in years past it was not uncommon for artists to bring wine and cheese to share over an evening of creation.
The same passion and generosity of the Hell’s Kitchen community would extend into saving Mud Matters — one of the teachers at the studio offered to take up the space’s lease for the remainder of 2021, allowing Hadley, Clarke, and Hollingsworth to strategize an early 2022 reopening. The time away allowed them “to make small changes to the space — by having the space with no one in it, we could rebuild some furniture and make rearrangements we’ve wanted to do for a while, so it’s been exciting,” explains Hollingsworth.
One change is a renewed focus on classes, education, and workshops, the team reveals. “It will give us more time and space for those interested in taking workshops to join,” says Hadley. While the schedule at Mud Matters will be structured around classes and workshops only during the reopening period, sister studio La Mano will continue to offer artist memberships for dedicated studio time and space.
Interest in returning to Mud Matters has been so strong that several of the classes are already full, says Hadley. There are upcoming workshops with dates yet to be finalized, and if you are interested in learning how to create drinkware, there is a 2-part mug making workshop to be held on March 16 and 30 from 2-5pm. There are also individual wheel-throwing classes, though these sell out quickly and are currently full. The team is also in the process of developing some hybrid Zoom/in-person workshops for remote potters.
The lightning-fast sign-ups speak to the cherished relationships between instructors and students, many of whom stayed in touch over the course of the pandemic shutdown, in hopes of reuniting at the studio. “I’m a devout parishioner of my Monday night teacher, Patrica Oteken. We stayed in touch throughout, though not as much as we would have, had we had class each week! I look forward to redeveloping my pottery cadence and can’t wait to see former classmates and meet the newcomers,” says Le Francois.
Vinogradov also eagerly awaited a chance to reconnect with the Mud Matters crew, keeping in touch with the team and artists over the course of the shutdown through socially-distanced sales, “which I loved.” She is thrilled to be able to return to La Mano and Mud Matters, noting that her time there is “my absolute mental health outlet.”
Hadley notes that this is a common sentiment among seasoned artists and newcomers alike: “There’s something about when you touch clay — you leave your worries at the door. It’s a little oasis, a few hours to forget about your stress. There’s no artistic background necessary to join us, it’s about relaxing and learning something new.”
“There are people who have been coming to the studio for over 15 years who have made it what it is,” says Hadley, and the team looks forward to welcoming back friends old and new to the space.
As LeFrancois geared up for his first class, he reflected: “I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel for the long term, and am thrilled Mud Matters has a seat and a whole lot of clay for me.”
If you’d like to try your hand at clay throwing and experience the social, creative vibe at Mud Matters, be sure to check their website for future class dates or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.