SCOUTED ARTIST: MEET MADELINE WALTON, OWNER OF PURELY PORCELAIN

The Scout Guide’s core mission is to highlight distinctive small business owners within as many business sectors as possible that will greatly benefit both locals and visitors alike. We wish to always be providing inspiration and information for living beautifully, living well and living like an insider. We celebrate the faces behind the places and products we love. We value craftsmanship, and seek out the authentic, unique, and genuine wherever possible. When the brand was founded, the largest area of focus was to connect people within our community with artists, artisans, makers and experts. This is still the foundation of what we stand for here at The Scout Guide. When there are opportunities to showcase the talent of one of our tremendous local artists here in Philadelphia, such as Madeline Walton – owner of Purely Porcelain, we have a field day learning every detail that goes into the process of that particular medium of art. The desire to showcase and educate our audience on the work of such a talented artist such as Madeline is of the utmost importance to us. Learning and understanding new mediums of art is fascinating and opens everyone’s world up to new ways of thinking and perspective.

Madeline Walton has been a TSG member for two years, and there is still so much to learn about her technique and style based around being a ceramic artist. We wanted to delve into all that goes into the process of creating these one-of-kind porcelain knots, florals, candles and more that range from small adornments all the way to full wall installations that transform an entire room. We spent some time speaking with Madeline to learn more about her craft, and the joy that it has brought to her career as an artist.

1. What was it about the material porcelain in particular that drew you in as an artist and inspired you to pursue the creation of these beautiful one-of-a-kind works of art?

In my earliest days of ceramics, I worked with a Terracotta clay body – the common bright orange, durable clay, and at the time this was the only clay my program allowed. So, I often found myself trying to work around these parameters and limitations, so much so, that I constantly slip-stained, dyed, and glazed my work to embody an ethereal white temperament. After years of experimenting with this clay body, and a brief hiatus from ceramics, I re-immersed myself with the white clay body, Porcelain. While ceramicists traditionally find Porcelain to be challenging to work with, from the moment my hands hit the block of Porcelain I knew it was what I’d been searching for. Often misunderstood, porcelain requires a tender touch and methodical precision to yield the desired results. Soft to the touch and silky, when pushed to its boundaries, Porcelain can yield the finest of results, including translucence and fortitude through fragility. Through many years of working with porcelain, I have found that the finest results come from the crossroads of patience and practice mixed with the finest materials.

2. How very interesting! To that point, I’d love for you to embellish a bit on the quality of the materials you work with and create. What does that process look like for you?

Sourcing the finest quality materials is expensive, time consuming, and at times trying. However, the end result is incomparable. The quality of materials doesn’t stop at just sourcing, there is a great deal of testing – trial and error once the materials are attained. In working with materials that require a minimum temperature of 1800°F to fortify or melt, the starting product very rarely reflects the end result. When done properly, porcelain opens the door to techniques and results that no other clay embodies. To that end, my dry materials are equally important as they play a monumental role in the finishes applied to each piece. While seemingly simple, understanding the chemistry and stability behind each glaze is crucial for consistent results and long-term desired effects. Knowing and understanding each glaze’s chemistry allows me to push the boundaries of porcelain in terms of strength, durability, withstanding treatments, 2200°F temperatures, and natural elements such as fire, salt, and organic matter. Once each material is thoroughly vetted, they become the essential elements that represent my body of work.

3. When unifying traditional practices with contemporary creations, what are some of the traditional practices that have stood the test of time for your work?

Firing and Glazing. Glazing originally began as a way to seal the clay, increasing its functionality. Today, and especially with art, glazing can be really unique as you start flirting with the line between aesthetics and functionality. While creating glazes can be fun, understanding the chemistry and stability behind each glaze is crucial for consistent results and long-term desired effects. In tandem with glazing, is firing. Firing is a required technique to fortify the clay body, so it’s extremely traditional and practical. However, within the last few centuries, more modern and less functional firing techniques have been developed that utilize smoke, gas, and raw elements such as salt and minerals. These unique firing methods are definitely a venue that I’d love to explore and incorporate into my work in the future.

4. A true art collector loves to diversify their portfolio. We think every home should have a touch of Purely Porcelain’s work whether that be a full wall installation or small adornments. What are some of the projects you’re working on these days that you’re excited to share with us?  

I’m currently working on a multitude of projects across the country including San Francisco, Scottsdale, and Dallas with my particular favorite being a large scale cascade of knots for a local Philadelphia collector! Each of these projects are unique, some working with designers, others directly with clients to create a truly unique work of art!

5. What do you love most about your work and where do you find the most gratification in what you are creating as an artist and a business owner?

Seeing a vision effectively come to life! The extensive and detail-oriented process required with ceramics is unlike any other form of art. Once a piece is formed, it then has to survive a preliminary drying process. During this stage, known as ‘Greenware’, cracking, warping, or deterioration can occur from sunlight, heat, humidity, airflow, or simply being rushed through the process. Should a piece not meet a certain standard of quality it’s removed from the process and recycled to be later repurposed. From the Greenware stage, the piece then needs to be fired to become Bisqueware – this stage allows the porcelain to remain porous, but slightly fortified. During this stage the piece goes through a sense of permanence. If done improperly the piece can warp or worse, explode in the kiln. Upon firing to 1888°F, the Bisqueware is ready for finishes and glazes to be applied. Once the glazes are applied, the piece returns to the kiln to be further fortified and melt the surface to produce a desired effect at 2200°F. Beyond the shape of the work, the piece that goes into the kiln often looks nothing like the piece that will come out of the kiln, meaning your piece could go into the kiln smooth and grey and come out red and textured. There is a lot that can happen between 100 to 2200 degrees and if improperly applied or executed, the glaze can melt off, not melt enough, shiver, crawl, or be the wrong color entirely. Essentially, the process of ceramics is a series of multiple layers and stages, each step instrumental for the next, until you have a desired result and this process can be both gratifying and frustrating. So when I’m able to bring a vision to fruition, it’s extremely gratifying.

6. Do you have any new pieces that you’ve been working on that we can look forward to seeing in 2023?

I’m very excited for the Fall of 2022 where I’ll have multiple new finishes released, inspired by my Summer travels. Beyond that, I’m extensively working on an entirely new body of work expected to release in the Spring of 2023 and let’s just say it’s going to be on point!

7. As a local Philly artist and someone that loves food as much as you do, what are some of your epicurean go-to spots in the city these days?

I could talk about food all day, another form of art in my opinion! While I’m constantly shifting, my current go-to spots are Suraya for the eclectic and spice driven cuisine, El Techo for a good view and ambiance, or Trattoria Carina for a delicious northern Italian meal. Some other notable favorites include, Liberty kitchen, a great hole in the wall sandwich shop/market, or Giuseppe and Son’s for a wonderful aperitif. Finally, a stop at Weckerly’s for a Coffee & Cookies ice cream sandwich and you’re all set!

8. Being a Dallas native, what is it about Philadelphia that you have enjoyed most about living here?

The hustle and bustle of the city is often a deterrent for most people, but I like the accessibility to the various amenities. It’s nice to walk to dinner and reside or source locally. Beyond that, Philadelphia’s location is pivotal to being accessible for my East coast collectors in both New York City/Hampton’s and Washington DC.

 We thank you Madeline for sharing a world of knowledge and experience through the lens of your keen artistic eye. We are so proud to have such an exceptional artist and put you up on a pedestal to truly shine in the light you deserve.

For more information:

Purely Porcelain -Artist, Madeline Walton

Website: www.purely-porcelain.com

Instagram: @purely_porcelain

Article and Interview by: Editor, Laurie M. Wightman