Ceramics Monthly: What impact has your role as Director of Ceramics at Peters Valley School of Craft had on your creative practice?
Bruce Dehnert: My position has afforded me the rare opportunity to put some of my philosophical assumptions to test. That is, I believe that creativity and art making can be greatly enhanced by forming connections between the artist and pretty much everything and everyone else out there who happen to somehow wander into the artist’s orbit. This includes ideas drawn from all spectrums of human experience, techniques and materials, and most importantly the human dimension as experienced through conversations. A workshop center like Peters Valley can be a stew of resources with all kinds of people coming and going quickly through the place with their myriad ideas and approaches. This also includes artists working in other mediums who I might have the opportunity to have lunch with and shoot the universe.
Because of this rich environment, I think I have maintained quite an experimental approach to my work. It’s almost impossible to be part of this creative enterprise without being influenced or inspired by the enthusiasm with which most artists, whether they be instructors, residents, or students, endeavor to bring something new to the table while they’re here. I try to watch and consider what I’m observing.
In terms of the school’s location in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, it’s always a joy to hear visiting instructors exclaim their amazement at the nature around the Center. Because we are close to New York City, most arrive expecting John Malkovich to fall out of the sky onto the Jersey Turnpike in front of Tony Soprano’s SUV as it speeds past the cargo cranes near the Port of Newark. Actually, New Jersey is the Garden State, and Peters Valley definitely lives up to that billing.
CM: Have your experiences firing the wood kiln at Peters Valley influenced your work in any way?
BD: One of the most important ideas that have crystallized my experience of wood firing is that all art is made in context. Having witnessed the many different approaches to this process by visiting artists I am constantly refreshed and inspired. Because I view wood kilns basically as tools, I am not a romantic about the role the things play in our culture or history. Having said this, I am aware of the metaphysical aspects that people may bring to the event. But I am most interested in the discipline going forward, evolving and being useful as a contemporary effect. What does that look like and why? The firing of a wood-kiln is very different than a studio-based act of art making. There is a certain absence of complete control that is liberating. This element of risk-taking is something that has interested me since I was young. It’s simply invigorating to be part of a group of artists trying to fire a kiln in the middle of a blizzard in wintertime, knowing that what we are attempting to do is going to be worth every flashing and signal of the flame’s path across the objects within. There’s an intangible value to this sort of experience…and in some ways, it seems to become more so all the time.
Click here to view the archived article Butterdishing the Ancestors by Bruce Dehnert.