Nate Mell and Wynn Bauer firmly believe that food is an art form – one that deserves its own canvas.
That belief is precisely why Mell and Bauer created Felt and Fat, their design collaboration and manufacturing group specializing in porcelain table wares, in Fall 2013. Though Felt and Fat is a fairly new installment in the Philadelphia art community, restaurants like Laurel and High Street have noticed its handcrafted porcelain products.
Mell, 28, and Bauer, 29, said they thrive on collaboration, particularly between artists. They find that their success is hinged on this aspect of teamwork, as well as the idea that Mell and Bauer, both ceramicists, should work and design with chefs – who are also artists.
For Mell and Bauer, the recent popular trend of locally sourcing food ingredients should inevitably lead to locally sourcing just about any product possible, including ceramic plates, cups, mugs, vases and other food service supplies.
“There’s plenty of local ceramicists,” Mell said. “Local sourcing allows them to work directly with chefs.”
Mell and Bauer have created a niche in which they are able to take a chef’s vision and deliver a product that features the artistic pair’s own creative input.
Mell, a graduate of Tyler School of Art, worked serving tables for quite some time, which made it possible for him to see precisely where creating ceramics and food service intersect.
“The program at Tyler always encouraged me to be very open, experimental and use any material possible,” Mell said.
Mell said the faculty at Tyler helped inspire and boost him as an artist.
Mell said he is one degree of separation away from any restaurant in the city, due to his years working in the food industry. He said those previously established relationships are vital to Felt and Fat.
Mell said he believes that a lot of other local artists are perhaps more interesting, and certainly create amazing things, but cannot seem to find the right market for their work. Networking to create relationships is absolutely vital.
“People make, and make and make,” Bauer said. “But they’re hermits.”
Mell and Bauer also called social media, specifically Instagram, an integral part of their business. They have found that many chefs follow their social media accounts and become interested in their wares.
“Sometimes there’s no time for a nice photo shoot,” Bauer said. “To take it all and plug it into a website. But with Instagram, the photos are good and you can keep it up to date.”
Instagram has allowed Mell and Bauer the chance to connect with and send samples to interested restaurants that are physically thousands of miles away, like a young chef in France hoping to open a new restaurant soon.
Another facet to Mell and Bauer’s success is collaboration. Currently, they are working together with chefs, but a dream of theirs is to create different projects with artists in the area.
“There’s a lot of things that are simmering,” Mell said.“We’d love to create a collaborative design studio. Right now, we’ve just been trying to get things up, running and functional.”
The pair also said they hope to branch out artistically to different mediums, perhaps furniture, industrial design or decorative nonfunctional pieces, using their porcelain wares as a baseline for future ideas.
But Mell and Bauer recognize that reaching such a goal requires a high level of constant creativity, something that can often be too easily burned out in a fast-paced artistic field.
It is that same theme of collaboration, Mell said, that keeps the creativity coming.
“We have so many people coming in fresh each time and they’re very excited,” he said. “That brings a different energy to us. It keeps us going.”
Victoria Mier can be reached at email@example.com