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Ben Medansky is a ceramicist who is known for both his colorful, playful mugs and his larger, sculptural art pieces. He also has a beautiful doggie named Banjee who I became obsessed with after Melissa and I stopped by his new studio for a visit in January.
I know essentially zilch about ceramics and sculptural art, but even my untrained eye sees something special in Ben’s pieces. To be honest, I don’t even know how to write about art without sounding cliché, so I’ll just say his work is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and then I’ll let you peruse his site on your own so that we can all be in agreement on the coolness of Ben Medansky Ceramics.
Being a skilled ceramicist isn’t the only thing that’s made Ben so successful, however. He’s a smart businessman who can turn a studio fire into a success story. I know this because he did that last year.
In the summer of 2016, there was a fire in downtown Los Angeles inside the large commercial building where Ben’s studio was located. One of the businesses was a textile company, and because their warehouse was full of fabric, it took an entire day to extinguish the fire. As a result, Ben’s studio was completely destroyed. All of his pieces were scorched in the flames, and he lost nearly all of his tools and equipment, including his kilns.
“I wasn’t the first one to know that my studio was on fire,” he says. “Friends Instagrammed images of the smoke plume, and I received texts as I was coming home from Santa Monica that evening.”
After assessing the damage, he had an idea. Although the ceramics were burned, there was something unique about the pieces and their story. People might be intrigued enough and supportive enough of Ben’s cause to actually purchase these items.
“As a coping mechanism, I jokingly said to my friends the night of the fire as we helplessly watched my studio burn down, ‘I guess I’m having a fire sale!’ Little did I know that I would actually salvage over 200 pieces of work from the wreckage and exhibit them in a show titled ‘Fired By The Fire’ at Lawson-Fenning four months later.” The so-called “fire sale” was actually hugely successful. Paired with the donations from a GoFundMe that was set up by a friend, Ben was able to open a new studio. In fact, on the day Melissa and I went to meet Ben and see the new digs, his brand new kiln had just arrived!
The fire forced Ben to sit back and reflect on his business. Although it was indeed a tragedy, Ben found his silver lining.
“For one, I slowed down. I had to give myself time to reflect on the situation,” he says. “Losing my studio, personal belongings, and heirlooms from my grandparents in one fell swoop led me to focus on what’s really important, and that is making art, sharing ideas, working on my forthcoming book, and teaching. Filling my time with these meaningful exercises helped me heal quicker than if I were to have immediately returned to production.”
It’s easy to put yourself on autopilot when running a business, or settle into doing the same things you did when you first started because you know how it will turn out. When talking to Ben, he mentioned how he was excited to have a new vision for Ben Medansky Ceramics where he will be focusing more on bigger, sculptural art pieces and less on some of the stuff he was starting to become known for, like his mugs.
Every business has its ups and downs. Of course, not all downs equal a giant warehouse fire, but regardless of what you’re faced with, the real challenge is finding a way to deal with it that makes sense for you and your brand.
Ben wrote a book about his brand and his experience with the fire that is available for pre-order if you’re curious to hear more about his story. The cover image is a scan of a fire-hose soaked sketch recovered from his old studio, and the book is full of photos of some of the amazing pieces he’s created in the last 5 years, plus more details about the fire.
And if you’re curious to see Ben teach me how to make and destroy a pinch pot (or if you like adorable pups named Banjee), watch our video!