Lalese Stamps buzzes around her 2,450-square-foot studio in Bay View’s Lincoln Warehouse, a space six times the size of the one she vacated in Columbus, Ohio, last July. Sunlight pours through wall-length, multi-pane windows, and fresh coats of white paint cover exposed-brick walls. Plants, like monstera, are everywhere. By one wall, a pottery wheel rests on the ground, stained brown from many hours of use. It’s, in essence, the perfect headquarters for her business, Lolly Lolly Ceramics.
Wearing a New York Yankees cap and Birkenstock sandals, sipping coffee in a MKE-made Covet & Ginger mug, Stamps – whose nickname is “Lolly” – chats about her vision for this raw space. After 10 years in Columbus, witnessing many of her friends leave for other cities, she’s circled back to her roots. Stamps grew up on Milwaukee’s North Side and is a 2008 Rufus King International High School grad. Shortly after moving into her new studio, some of her former classmates – who had no art experience – teamed up to paint a colorful mural in the space, guided by Stamps’ “paint-by-numbers approach,” she says.
“It is terrifying, but more exciting than anything,” says Stamps about a pottery hobby that spiked into a business crafting artful stoneware mugs.
In 2017, seeking relief from screen time as a graphic designer, she began throwing clay in her Columbus basement. Her 2019 “100 Day Project,” when she made 100 mugs with 100 different handles over 100 days, thrust her into the spotlight, earning her New York Times coverage this past May.
“This business is no longer [just] about me,” says Stamps, who convinced studio manager Reva Kashikar to relocate with her from Columbus to help handle administrative work. “It started with me in my basement having fun. Clay was my fun side project to keep my hands busy and not always on the computer.”
Stamps resists calling herself an “entrepreneur” because she lacks formal business training, but her Instagram profile has proven to be both a marketing machine and focus group. Five years ago, she debuted her first design to 2,000 Instagram followers (that number has since grown to 108,000) and at Columbus flea markets. Now she pursues partnerships with brands like Reebok (wearing athletic shoes while working on her pottery wheel) and fulfills wholesale orders for Madewell and West Elm. “A lot of it is word-of-mouth,” says Stamps, who only sells through her website. Eventually she’d like to host a pop-up shop at the studio followed by a storefront. “So far, we’ve really been bootstrapping,” she says, “[but] Wisconsin has so much awesome funding to get businesses into storefronts.”
Inspiration for future designs, she says, will be found in the many bicycle rides she takes along Lake Michigan, and born out of a desire to build a sustainable-minded brand. She’d also like to host workshops teaching others – especially young people – how to mold clay into decorative art or functional pieces. “Education is really important to me,” says Stamps. “I know how underfunded the arts can be.”
But for now, she stands in the middle of this sun-soaked space and marvels at all the possibilities, including a plaster room outfitted with 3D-printing technology, revealing new color options for her mugs. “I’m excited about this new process that will allow us to grow,” she says. “The way we’re set up, we can only go upward.”
Fusing modern and industrial, Lincoln Warehouse (2018 S. First St.) features artisan-minded tenants including:
Allies & Co.: A video production agency with clients that include Johnsonville Brats and Toyota
MKE Studio: Share Offers photography workshops and daily studio rentals for photographers and art directors
The Space MKE: A creative-studio collective owned by a fashion designer and photographer, also hosting pop-up jewelry and art sales
Wander & Co.: Produces clothing, jewelry and stickers to benefit social causes
New Barons Brewing Cooperative: Wisconsin’s first member-owned brewery’s taproom (bonus: it’s family- and dog-friendly)
Component Brewing Co.: A 3-year-old brewery owned by three cousins who are passionate about beer and family
Twisted Path Distillery: Specializes in certified-organic, gluten-free spirits, including chai-infused vodka