Mercedes Muñoz displays mugs she made at her studio on Dec. 12. She said particularly likes making mugs that she uses and knows others use, as well. She said that the mug represents the relationship between function and art. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Mercedes Muñoz displays mugs she made at her studio on Dec. 12. She said particularly likes making mugs that she uses and knows others use, as well. She said that the mug represents the relationship between function and art. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Celebrating the relationship between function and art

Local artist prepares for a pop-up shop

On a cold, snowy December morning, warmth and light emanated out of the small, waterfront ceramics studio of Mercedes Muñoz near Lena Loop.

Inside, Muñoz was busy making pieces to sell at her upcoming pop-up shop set for Saturday, Dec. 18, at Amalga Distillery downtown. It’s only her second pop-up shop since the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in the Capital City and around the world.

“I love the freedom and personal connections that come from an in-person show,” she said while taking a break from work to host the Empire Sunday morning. “I’ve really missed that.”

While she’s looking forward to the personal connection of a show, Muñoz said the pandemic nudged her to find new markets for her work and get creative with her marketing. She said that now about one-third of her work is being shipped to out-of-state customers who follow her on Instagram.

But, she said an in-person show offers the opportunity to make unique pieces in small lots. She shows off a pair of mugs with a unique design that she’s making for the show.

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She said she’s particularly looking forward to being at the Amalga Distillery because owners Brandon Howard and Maura Selenak are supporters of the arts.

“They have been unwavering supporters of mine, and have continuously done so much to uplift the Juneau art community. I feel fortunate to work with them,” she said.

Shaping clay and minds

Munñoz said she appreciates ceramics because it allows her the opportunity to interact with an art piece she made. Muñoz said she particularly enjoys making mugs that she uses and knowing that others are using her pieces as well.

Mercedes Muñoz at work in her Lena Loop studio in Dec. 12. Her original sketch hangs in the background of her ceramics studio. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Mercedes Muñoz at work in her Lena Loop studio in Dec. 12. Her original sketch hangs in the background of her ceramics studio. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

“When you make a piece of art and open it, it feels like Christmas Day,” she said. “There are so many moments in life when we move fast. Pottery slows me down. Choosing the mug for my morning coffee feels like it makes the experience better. I’m more present–that’s the relationship between function and art,” she said.

She said that being present is important to her as a mom of young kids. She has an almost 5-year old daughter and son who’s about to turn 2. She said being present for them means that she does most of her ceramic work in the evenings and on weekends. She said she tries to be in her studio close to full-time hours. But, changing nap schedules and pre-school pick-ups present some logistical challenges.

“There’s not enough hours in the day. But, I’m enjoying this time,” she said.

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Finding joy

Joy is an important consideration for her as she decides where to focus her work.

“I’m trying to slow down and think about what brings me joy,” she said, explaining how she hit upon the idea of creating sketches — that have now morphed into pins — of dog behinds.

“I thought, ‘I would enjoy this’ and I did it and it was liberating,” she said. “I do my best work when I’m doing what makes me happy.”

Local artist Mercedes Muñoz shows off a pin inspired by a sketch of her dog’s behind at her studio on Dec. 12. She will sell the pins for the first time at a pop-up shop scheduled for Sat. Dec. 18 at Amalga Distillery. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Local artist Mercedes Muñoz shows off a pin inspired by a sketch of her dog’s behind at her studio on Dec. 12. She will sell the pins for the first time at a pop-up shop scheduled for Sat. Dec. 18 at Amalga Distillery. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

A fifth-generation Alaskan who grew up in Juneau, Muñoz said that she loves ske

.tching and still produces two-dimensional work. She said she’s planning to show more of that work in the coming year.

But, since her undergraduate years at Montana State University — where she first took a ceramics class — she’s loved the medium.

“I fell in love,” she said.

Muñoz said she orders 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of clay each year and barges it to Juneau along with other supplies and any equipment that she needs. Once those supplies arrive, she sets out to turn the clay into the mugs, vases, trays and goblets that reflect her cheerful etchings and paintings.

Muñoz said it takes her a few months to fill up her kiln, which was gifted to her by a local artist. She said with stacking and layers, she can fit about 150 pieces into the kiln for an initial firing. After that process, she applies the glaze and designs that are her signature.

“It’s all done in layers because that makes it more interesting,” she said, showing off a piece that features a festive garland pattern with gold flecks. She said about 90% of her pieces are embellished with gold.

“With ceramics, the key is knowing the capabilities of each stage,” she said.

Know & Go

What: Pop-Up Shop with Mercedes Muñoz Ceramics

When: Saturday. Dec. 18 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Where: Amalga Distillery, 134 N. Franklin St.

Admission: COVID-19 mitigation measures include limited-capacity entry and masking.

Good to know: If you miss the show this weekend, you can find Muñoz on Instagram @mercedesmunozart and Facebook at Mercedes Munoz Ceramics & Illustration.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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