A drawer full of random baubles—some shells or coins, an earring without a mate or a charm that’s long fallen off of its bracelet—might hold sentimental value, but these aren’t necessarily things you’d put out on display. Cincinnati-based artist Maxine Midtbo, however, sees it differently—and with her ceramics, released under her brand Memor Studio, she turns those kinds of ornaments into something else entirely: vases.
When Bohème Goods founder Sarah Shabacon came across Midtbo’s work through her collaboration with ceramist Rachel Saunders, she immediately reached out, hoping to turn a collection of souvenirs and sentimental objects into keepsake pots for her two sons. After much deliberation, she selected “a trinket from each grandparent; charms from my mom’s charm bracelet; a silver totem to honor our indigenous ancestors; sea glass from Poland; police medals; the first earrings my husband’s mom made; the coins, shells, and stones from our travels as a family; and the remnants of a cherished broken vase.”
Tiny treasures in hand, Midtbo set about her mosaic process. “I like to work intuitively and let the placement of each object guide the next,” she says. Consequently, every single vase is unique and imbued with history—a joint effort between her and whomever requested the vessel.
While not all of her vases use her customers’ finds (Midtbo sometimes dips into her own collection of scavenged goods), getting personal is what gives her work meaning. “It’s an intimate experience for me when people like Sarah trust me with their treasures and heirlooms,” she says. “The conversations that assemblages of ephemera inspire bring a sense of purpose to my studio practice.”
For Shabacon, the final result of Midtbo’s work is truly priceless: Her haphazardly accrued mementos transformed into bona fide family heirlooms. “I was so emotional opening up the box when they arrived, and the boys felt so humbled to have something with their names on the bottom, made just for them with items chosen just for them and by them,” she says. “I hope that when our sons are old and gray, they can tell the stories that are embedded in the vases to their families and pass them down.”
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