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Martha Stewart honors Art alumnus' business

Rows of custom ceramic growlers sit in Mudshark Studios.

Rows of custom ceramic growlers sit in Mudshark Studios.

Chris Lyon, with ceramic growlers

"Martha Stewart throws a really great party," says 2005 Art graduate Chris Lyon. And he would know. 

Lyon was honored in October by Martha Stewart at the "2012 Martha Stewart Presents American Made Awards," at which Stewart and the editors of Martha Stewart Living magazine feted the 10 finalists in their search for “rising stars in a new generation of small-business owners."

The event, held in Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station, included a red carpet, a photo shoot with Martha Stewart -- complete with paparazzi -- and a showing of a video about Mudshark Studios, the business Lyons started with fellow potter Brett Binford that earned Stewart's praises.

"Never in a thousand years did I think I'd be on a red carpet with Martha Stewart," says Lyon, who, with Binford, was named a "crafts honoree" for their building the West Coast's largest sub-contract ceramic manufacturer. The pair was awarded a framed, hand-stitched map of the United States with a star labeled “Mudshark Studios” over Portland, Oregon, where the company is located.

More valuable than that, though, "the Martha Stewart seal of approval validated the company to my mom," laughs Lyon.

Not that Mudshark Studios needs Martha Stewart to validate their success. Started in 2006 with a single kiln in the 400-square-foot basement of a house Lyon and Binford were sharing, Mudshark now has 26 employees. The company – now in a 1,700-square-foot building housing 10 kilns – produces ceramic projects for artists, individuals, and companies that need to outsource their production.

“What made us stand out to Martha Stewart is that we make such a variety of products and work with such a variety of people, and the fact that you don't have to have a large company to come work with us," Lyon explains. "You can even be just be somebody who came up with a great idea for a ceramic mug, but don't know anything about ceramics. That means you can start small and you don't need a huge investment or to have it manufactured overseas.”

As both an artist and a business owner, Lyon says the Art Department's Business Art option helped him bring together his art with a successful business.

"When I went to FLC, I had ceramic knowledge, but I didn't have any of the business knowledge. I got to learn stuff I needed to know that I had no idea that I needed to know," he says. "Getting the taste of accounting and management and PR really helped push us in certain directions. Because I had that experience, I automatically became the accountant in the company."

Today, Lyon is Mudshark's CFO -- chief financial officer. Still, “I wish I'd taken even more business classes,” he says, “because now I realize how important it is to understand accounting, managing employees, and building middle management.”

But now he does understand. So with that experience, he offers some advice to other aspiring artists. “Even though it's nails on a chalkboard to artists, get as much business knowledge as you can,” he suggests. “All of that's been key to me.”


Learn about Art at Fort Lewis College.

Visit Mudshark Studios.

Find out more about the Martha Stewart Presents American Made Awards and see a video of Binford and Lyon discussing their craft here.

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