Porcelain creations lined the towering shelves, earthy in tone and many in number. Machinery whirred. The air was hot and thick – a summer day in Port Richmond at Felt+Fat’s studio.
Nate Mell, a graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, and Wynn Bauer are the founders of Felt+Fat, a ceramics studio specializing in custom plate wares. A favorite of Philadelphia chefs like Nick Elmi of Laurel and Eli Kulp of High Street, Felt+Fat bridges the gap between dining and art, practicality and craftsmanship.
During the month of April, Mell and Bauer launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the future of Felt+Fat. The campaign raised $25,000, helping the pair purchase new equipment and supplies and hire new personnel.
For Bauer and Mell, Felt+Fat has come a long way in the last two years. The duo met while working at the Clay Studio in Old City. When Mell, a waiter at the High Street on Market, was approached by the head chef, Eli Kulp, about making plates for the restaurant, he asked for Bauer’s help.
“It was something we needed to work on together to get it done,” Bauer said.
After completing their first project together, Bauer and Mell felt something click. The pair moved into Bauer’s tiny studio in Port Richmond and started their own business. From there, Bauer and Mell began to specialize in making tableware for restaurants and chefs.
When tasked with deciding on a name, Bauer and Mell were inspired by a fellow artist named Joseph Beuys, a mid-century German sculpture and performance artist.
“We wanted something ambiguous enough that it wouldn’t limit us,” Mell said.
Beuys’ use of materials inspired the name Felt+Fat, but the artist’s method also rang true with Mell and Bauer.
“When you look at his work, you get something out of it on a very surface level, but then every material he used was very, very considered,” Mell said.
According to Mell, the same is true for Felt+Fat’s work. The pair uses materials that are specific to a particular time and place, giving their wares a one of a kind in look that is unique to the story behind each piece.
“You can get an immediate ‘this is nice’ sort of feel, but it also has layers of depth as to why we did something the way we did,” Mell said.
Much of Felt+Fat’s business is in Philadelphia, but has established eateries in South Carolina, Texas, Michigan, New York and even Sweden, according to Mell.
The pair is always on the search for new partnerships with individuals who equally value a careful consideration of materials.
“Chefs at the top restaurants in the world understand the importance of story and the importance of consideration and every tiny little detail of their work,” Mell said.
It is important that chefs and other partners know the pair personally as artists, Bauer said, so their tableware can be appreciated as pieces of art.
These connections and friendship, Mell said, were a major contribution to their Kickstarter’s success.
Mell reached out to chefs and journalists alike to help spread the word.
“A lot of why we ran the Kickstarter in April was because we knew we had about four different articles coming out about us that month,” Mell said.
These articles, along with social media support and a huge event to launch the campaign, helped Mell and Bauer spread word of their project. The launch event took place on April 20th, 2015. Although the event, held at ReAnimator Coffee on Master Street, was free, Mell and Bauer asked everyone in attendance to share the Kickstarter’s link on social media.
Now, Bauer and Mell plan on “putting ourselves out there” more. They are currently working on a catalog and plan to potentially attend a design fair in London this September.
“We just want to keep on going,” Bauer said.
Ashley Paskill can be reached at email@example.com.