The Dwell 24: Mud Witch

Viviana Matsuda’s vibrant ceramic line, Mud Witch, has built a community by opening up conversations about contemporary social issues.

Viviana Matsuda, the San Francisco designer behind ceramics studio Mud Witch, has built a community by making her practice about more than objects. She sees her pieces as ways to talk about broad social topics like body-size inclusivity. 

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"Some of my early works were in skin tones like naked bodies," Matsuda says. "What if we didn’t worry about how people perceived our bodies and made more space for ourselves?" 

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Matsuda’s positive messaging and brightly colored cups and planters embellished with playful squiggles have won fans the world over. The designer has turned her studio’s social media channels into places where people from different countries can come together, and she plans to start workshops to help others learn how to make their own pieces. 

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Matsuda says, "I want to create a safe space where people can thrive and learn freely."

Learn why Matsuda's dream house would be a fun-filled haven and more by reading her responses to our Q&A below. 

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I make fun ceramics that are inspired by the body positive movement. My pieces are chubby, freckled and colorful.

What's the last thing you designed? Face mugs and vases for the "We Are Everywhere" Pride show in Oakland. 

Do you have a daily creative ritual? I do. I take a mid-day sun break where I sit outside and recharge without my phone. Disconnecting for just a half hour revitalizes me and makes me separate myself from stress. Usually by the end I recall the feeling of when I first started and that gets me going agian.

How do you procrastinate? I procrastinate when it comes to communication. Communication like emails and texts take so much energy from me. I overthink and it distracts me my whole day so I often keep it to the end of the day...or longer.

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? I would love to redesign the greenhouse. I would want to find ways to play with the sun and display plants that is clever in function and form. 

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? Yayoi Kusama. Everytime I see an interview with her I find her very relatable. She is obsessed with art and design and I feel the same way. I am never not thinking about art, design, and balance. I look at tree branches and wonder how their form is so perfect or at the ground and how beautifully speckled the concrete is with its warm and cool tones.

What skill would you most like to learn? Building unique structures. I would love to build a bunch of crazy hobbit artist shacks.

What is your most treasured possession? A jade horse my dad gave to me. It was the last gift I got from him before he passed.

What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? I tried to design and build a claw machine when I was very young. It did not work but it looked cool.

What contemporary design trend do you despise? Minimalism. I think it's very arrogant and has notes of classism

Finish this statement: All design should... Bring you to an emotion or reaction.

What's in your dream house? My dream house would be 90 percent windows that is somehow on a cliff but by the beach and in the woods but near the city. Ha! It would be filled with all sorts of oddly shaped pieces from artist around the country. Everything in the house would be fun from the light switch toggle to the toilet brush.

How do you want design to be different after we emerge from the pandemic? During the pandemic I feel like I was making pieces as a stress relief but felt very scared to move around in my design aesthetic. I feel like every designer goes through this period of feeling typecast by their aesthetic. "What if they don't like my new ideas? Will they say I lost my touch?" Now that folks are getting vaxed and things are reopening I feel a little less bogged down by those feelings. I'm looking forward to recentering myself to design out of joy rather than distraction.

How can the design world be more inclusive? I feel like not only including BIPOC, Fat, Queer, Differently able folks e.t.c. but creating a environment where they are comfortable. Asking folks how to make them more comfortable is the best way and only way to know what people's needs are without assuming. Assuming people's needs can be harmful and offensive.

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? Behind every design there is a human person. I feel like folks have been so disconnected from designer to product because Brand names overpowering the conversation but the reality is someone designed everything in your house, and put thought and care into it. There's a reason why your cooking spoon has that curve and why your toothbrush is that size and has a smooth finish.

You can learn more about Mud Witch on Matsuda’s website and Instagram.

Gabrielle Golenda
I am from the Mile-High City, Denver, Colorado (where my first-ever published work was the winning poem in the Denver Post’s rodeo-themed haiku contest).




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