A Studio Visit with Midwest Art Collective Hamtramck Ceramck

Published September 22, 2020

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As part of our Michigan and Michigan State Dunk High release with Premier in Grand Rapids, we commissioned art collective Hamtramck Ceramck to create a a set of one-of-a-kind skate wheels we’ll be sending out to a few lucky recipients with their Dunks, filtering skateboarding, basketball, and classic collegiate aesthetics through their unique lens. We’ve been fans of Hamtramck Cermack for awhile now, and saw this as a great occasion to finally work with them directly. This feature also appears in the zine we produced to commemorate this release, shipping out with all pairs of the Dunks as well as all private label apparel from Notre and Premier.

Hamtramck Ceramck is an artist collective and curatorial project that uses ceramics as a vehicle for collaboration. It was founded in 2015, and its current active members are Braden Baer (from Port Huron, MI), Amber Locke (from Ann Arbor, MI), and Ben Saginaw (from Geneva, IN).

The members of the group maintain a consistent ceramic practice in the studio space, creating objects and collaborating frequently both within and beyond the collective. The current group aren't traditionally trained ceramic artists, and tend to approach the medium with a sense of freedom and curiosity—in a sometimes stuffy medium, their work stands out for its sense of playful exploration. Their works are sometimes functional, sometimes ornamental, each possessing their own historical—and often pop cultural—significance and representing the collective’s shared memories and interests.

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The collective’s studio functions in many ways as a hub for the Hamtramck art community. It's a center of activity, with people constantly popping in to say hello, have a beer, or to work on a one-off ceramic piece. Pre-Covid, the studio had opened itself to local Hamtramck kids to stop by, make objects, and participate in free, informal instructional classes. The vibe of the space is open and upbeat. Portage Garage, which houses the studio, is also the home to an exhibition space and Portage Garage Sounds, a record label and recording studio. With all of this activity, it's incredibly rare to stop by the studio in the evenings and find fewer than four people in the building. Speaking collectively about Hamtramck, the crew says: “Outside of Queens, NY, it has one of the highest per capita rates of different national backgrounds represented in the community. It’s also one of two separate municipalities inside Detroit, the other being Highland Park—similar to the Vatican or something.”

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Matching the building’s freeform energy, the Hamtramck Ceramck crew involve themselves in all sorts of projects beyond their ceramic practice, making zines, shirts, bags, staging exhibitions, and more. It’s tough to pin down exactly what Hamtramck Ceramck means—that’s a big part of its appeal.

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Speaking about the impact skating has had on their work, the crew says: “Skating to us was never about athletics, but rather about anti-authoritarian energy. The beauty is that it wasn’t sport and that the only rule was self-expression. It was one of the first DIY cultures we engrained ourselves in that included fashion, architecture, film, music, and art. Whether or not we all were ‘skaters,’ we all have an interest in the community and are aligned adjacently. Sports is part of culture, and as artists I think our general discourse is to assess/regurgitate/critique/assemble cultural signifiers into charged objects or images. While our work isn’t about sports, we often cite things in sports that have meaning beyond athletics.”

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