Special dinnerware made for intimate, everyday meals

By Hollie Deese

Being an artist runs in Morgan Williamson’s blood. Growing up, she watched her mother build a business doing faux finishing and murals in homes in Texas, and as a girl Williamson would work right alongside her, soaking in what it meant to be an entrepreneur artist.

“She was a huge influence,” she says. “Her work is so much about color and texture. I feel like the appreciation that I built then, as a kid, totally carried over to what I’m doing now.”

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Williamson then grew up in Texas — but she ended up back in her hometown when she was recruited to play soccer at Samford while she majored in fine arts. At first she focused on mixed media and painting, but ceramics was a required class and it ended up being her favorite.

“It was like free therapy,” she says. “It was a reprieve from the demands of soccer and school and everything. I could just slow down and make with my hands, and I was really drawn to it out of the blue. I could see something transform immediately before my eyes, from a lump of mud into something beautiful and useful.”

She met her husband at Samford. When he was assigned clinical rotation for physical therapy in Nashville, they both fell in love with the city. They moved here in 2011. Williamson initially got a “real job,” but denying her artistic nature was not sustainable.

“I was just dying to create,” she says. “I felt this huge gap — I had no space to do my art and pottery. So I quit my job, and that’s when I started Handmade.”

That was 2012, the same year she and her husband started the shaved ice food truck Retro Sno. She made pottery in the guest room of her home and fired it in a kiln in her kitchen. But her work got placed in the 12South restaurant Josephine early on, and growth was inevitable. She moved her kiln out of the kitchen and into a studio at Fort Houston, but she quickly outgrew that space and settled into her current location at 100 Taylor Arts Collective.

“By 2015 it had really turned a corner,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily set out to start a big pottery business. I just want to do something that I love and have space to do that, and I just needed to sell a little bit every month to make it worth spending my time on, so we can pay our bills.”

Today there is an online store to buy any of the permanent collection of dinnerware, plus a rotating collection of gifts and holiday items over the course of the year. There is also a registry for dinnerware for newlyweds.

“It is one of my very favorite things we offer,” she says. “I think such a special part of the business is that we get to send people home with a full set of dinnerware to enjoy for their life together. It’s a big investment, so it’s such a great setup when all your friends and family can help you collect it all at once.”

Everything is oven-, dishwasher- and microwave-safe, and her most popular color is versatile white, which is classic and clean and will incorporate seamlessly with any other dishes and glassware you have in your home.

“People tend to not use their china a lot,” she says. “We design the whole collection ideally to mix and match with each other. These pieces are beautiful and heirloom-worthy, but they’re also sturdy and you will want to pull them out of your cabinet every day and use them.”

Williamson loves that things she creates become a part of people’s most intimate moments, gathered around a meal, celebrating special events and daily dinners.

“Drinking morning coffee or sharing a meal with a friend or with their family, your ceramics are around you for all of those special moments,” she says.

Handmade Studio offers monthly workshops, and an annual retreat — an extended clay workshop making a 10-piece entertaining set over the course of the day along with a brunch, a happy hour with a cheese and charcuterie spread and craft cocktails, and then that evening a catered dinner at a beautiful home in East Nashville under the stars.

“We want people to feel pampered and inspired and just create this space to really have the opportunity to connect over the table and share the joy of creating with each other,” she says.

Today her mom paints backdrops for photographers and rents space in Handmade’s Germantown studio. Telicia Lee Backdrops has taken off in recent years as she has evolved her own art.

“It’s amazing because I got to see her as an entrepreneur and artist while growing up, and she moved to Nashville a few years ago and did this pivot, and now she has this other thriving business that relates to what she did,” she says. “It’s been cool to watch her thrive.”

Williamson’s 3-year-old son comes to the studio some, too, running straight to the production table to get the clay out. “He feels like he runs the place, but he’s not quite there yet,” she says. “We’ve made some ornaments together and some little bowls and things. I love that he likes being in there, and I’m excited as he gets older for him to be involved.”