Modern Makers: Mater Soap

Blog Category:  Museum Shop
Three Mater Soap products against a white background. On the left is a green, flecked bar of soap. A wooden, slatted soap dish with MATER on the side is in the center. On the right is a small blue pump bottle with the Mater Serum label on it.

Are you looking to upgrade your handwashing routine and support a small, woman-owned business? Check out Mater Soap, which creates small-batch, cold-process, handmade bar soaps and organic body products, now available in the Museum Shop. We spoke with founder Addison Walz about her process and products.

How did Mater come to fruition?

I have always been interested in objects and processes. I studied sculpture, which eventually led me to textiles. Over the last decade, I experimented with weaving structures, fibrous materials and color (mostly natural), and found a common thread: no matter how much I attempted to transform my materials, they always proved to have innate power that would dictate how I was allowed to manipulate them. At the core of my interests is a reverence for material and the tension of art and design, craft and utility.

The first time I made soap it felt like I was in the early myth of Mount Sapo, in ancient Rome, where some claim soap was discovered by “accident.” As the story goes, after a sacrificial pyre, the fat of animals mixed into the ash of the flames and, with the next rain, the river was full of suds! I fell in love with the simplicity of soap in its formation and purpose: with every use it disappears a bit more until it has fulfilled its simple duty. An object of perfect utility. 

A woman with long, waist-length brown hair stands with her back to the camera and in front of a hanging textile. Her hands touch a red thread, a bit above her height. She wears loose khaki pants and a navy shirt.
Mater founder Addison Walz at work on a textile; Photo courtesy of the artist

You have a background in sculpture. Are there any female sculptors that you are influenced or inspired by?

I have always adored the work of Anni Albers, who was one of the most influential Bauhaus weavers. I had the opportunity to study her work closely while at a residency at the Albers Foundation in Connecticut. Similarly to the recipe of soap (fat + lye =), the technology of textiles has changed very little since the Middle Ages. Materials and automation may have, but the tools essentially remain the same. Albers’s work speaks to me, addressing my concerns with the intersection of art and utility and exposing the beauty and mystery in that overlap.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

Hearing people exclaim about the wonders of soap was very validating. It turns out that not only is soap incredibly cool (in my humble opinion), it also actually saves lives! I have been so fortunate to have had something to focus on during quarantine that not only brought me income, but also helped protect people—and even bring some amount of joy and self-care to people isolated in their homes. Other things have been complicated and stressful, like losing many of our wonderful retailers, which is devastating. Supply chain issues have been constant.  

What is your favorite soap bar from the Mater collection? 

I have always been a bar person (I love the object!) but I really think the scents we chose for the liquid Hand+Body soaps are pretty special. If I had to choose: it’s a tie between Sea Bar, Holy Bar, and Arbor Hand+Body. However, I did just release the Multipurpose Kitchen Block, a bar for dishes, pans, countertops and hand-washing delicate cloths, and I am very, very into it.

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