Local Legends: Chad Nelson & Felicia Breen

A few blocks from the banks of the Mississippi River, Chad Nelson and Felicia Breen, owners of Mississippi Mud Pottery in Alton, have found their creative and business niche.

Their handmade mugs, bowls, plates and platters are highly sought after by people throughout the region. And the ribbons and awards lining the walls of their shop are a testament to their artistic talents.

The Mississippi Mud Tradition

“Chad and I work really hard to develop and foster the Mississippi Mud tradition,” Breen pointed out during a short break. Mississippi Mud Pottery was purchased by artists Nelson and Breen 10 years ago when the previous owners Ken and Brenda Barnett retired and moved out of state. Mississippi Mud Pottery has been in operation for a total of 34 years.

That hard work has also garnered them an “Illinois Made” designation awarded by the Illinois Office of Tourism honoring the people, and places that create, craft and invent in Illinois.

The River Is Their Inspiration

“We wanted to continue the tradition of Mississippi Mud. And here we are 10 years later,” Breen said. “I think people respect our quality, craftsmanship and customer service.”

Although the store carries the name Mississippi Mud, the clay used in creating the plates, bowls, mugs and other ceramics doesn’t actually come from the river. But the inspiration for their work does.

“The one thing about living and having a store in Alton is every day when I come to work I see the river,” Felicia said. “And every day the river is different. Who would think that it could be a beautiful crystal blue one day, turgid the next, and flat as glass another? The river is always changing.”

Reasons for Mississippi Mud's Success

The couple has taken the changing face of the river and translated it into artistic pieces as well as the functional stoneware that has attracted buyers from throughout the region. They have become well known for the creation of press-molded fish ceramics where they actually press the bodies of fish into the clay to capture as much detail as possible.

“It’s the same concept the ancient Egyptians and Pre-Columbian peoples used when they created pottery,” Breen explained. “It’s really not a new process at all. But what makes us unique is the high degree of detail.”

The success of Mississippi Mud Pottery can be pinned to the rebirth of the shop local movement and the desire among shoppers to support local and handmade items.

“Overall, we are a full service shop,” Breen said. “People can come in here and talk to the artists, watch us make their piece and place orders for things we don’t have on hand. We are artists first but we have to be the Jack and Jill of all trades since we have a storefront too.”