Meet the Makers: Corbé

The Detroit ceramics studio balances innovation and tradition through pottery

In a city that is home to design institutions like Pewabic Pottery, distinguishing oneself is certainly not easy. But ceramicists Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless are climbing the ranks. Since 2015, the couple has been churning out sophisticated home essentials from sleek dinnerware and state-shaped plates, to made-to-order baptismal fonts from their North End studio, Corbé.

And though the Lawlesses are classically trained artists — Ryan holds a master’s of fine arts degree in ceramic sculpture, and Kaitlyn holds a bachelor’s degree in art, focusing on graphic design — much of the pottery they produce relies on modern technology like three-dimensional printing, laser-cutting, and slip casting.

“Oftentimes, I’m imagining a piece in person, designing it on the computer, and working backwards from there,” Kaitlyn says. “It would take an incredible amount of time to make a Michigan-shaped plate on a traditional wheel,” Ryan adds.

The Lawlesses see their work as the natural byproduct of an age where cellphones function like appendages and efficiency is measured by the millisecond. The idea that age-old traditions can be sustained through technological advancements, is perhaps most accurately summed up by their name. “Corbé is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name,” Kaitlyn explains, “when she got married, it died out. Our work is our way of bringing back something that had died out and giving it new life.”

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