2020 hasn’t made it easy to find the silver linings, but they are out there when you look hard enough. One of my favorites is the beautiful new line of ceramics being produced by Lake Forest’s Maria Cronin.
“I used to do ceramics about 20 years ago,” Maria says. “I was inspired on a trip to Ireland and completely fascinated by a porcelain factory we visited while we were there. When I came home, I took a ceramics class with my Dad and bought a small kiln. It was a great creative outlet for me.”
Even though Maria was able to turn her first venture into ceramics into a part-time business while working full-time in marketing, life happened (namely, her four incredible children: Caroline, Charlie, Patrick, and Sean) and she tucked her kiln away.
Then this January, Maria was pondering her New Year’s Resolutions and something hit her. “I just felt like I needed to do something creative again,” she says. “So I went out and bought 50 pounds of clay.”
Maria took that clay headed back down to her basement studio–where years ago she was busy making custom belts–and got to work. Remembering how she loved the delicate nature of porcelain, she strategized how to create that same feel in her work.
“One night I was making dinner in my kitchen and our pasta machine caught my eye,” Maria says. “I wondered what it would be like to put my clay through it.”
To her surprise, the pasta machine gave Maria exactly what she was looking for–thin, whimsical sheets of clay. Using a flower-like pattern, she began to layer these airy pieces into small accent dishes–glazing them in various colors. She finished each dish with what has become her signature, a touch of gold gilding along the edges. And while Maria can fire 8-10 dishes in her kiln at a time over the five-day process it takes to make each dish, she loves that each piece is truly one-of-a-kind.
“I never like anything I do, but I really liked how these were turning out,” Maria says. With some encouragement from her family who was all at home due to the shelter in place order, Maria began to share her work on Facebook and Instagram.
“It’s so hard not to have people come over to my house and see these pieces in person,” she says. “But social media has been the next best thing while we’re all staying at home.”
It wasn’t long before Maria began fielding requests for specific colors and larger sizes. At the same time, she launched a Maria Cronin Design Etsy page to share her work with a larger audience.
“My husband [Joe] says I’m the only ‘Type A’ artist he knows,” Maria says with a laugh. “I actually enjoy the business side of my work as much as creating the art itself.”
Maria is quick to say that the quiet of these last several months has been a blessing for her.
“I’m a creative person and it’s very satisfying to make something people like,” she says. “I’m not sure I would have been able to take this as far as I have if the shutdown hadn’t happened. And to have my kids and husband around while I was working on all of this has been so helpful.”
As Maria’s business continues to grow, she’s looking into buying a larger kiln and expanding to offer additional styles, including larger trays with basketweave imprints, as well as some stand-alone statement pieces.
“I love having a business of my own,” she says. “I’m very entrepreneurial and I love all that comes with that–including just closing my studio door when I need to. As much fun as it is to think about growing Maria Cronin Design, I don’t want to lose the integrity or uniqueness of what I’ve built so far. It’s a nice problem to have.”
To view more of Maria Cronin Design, click here.
Portrait of Maria Cronin by Kerri Sherman.