Just the Facts
Primary forming method
wheel throwing, mold making, slip casting
Primary firing temperature
For atmospheric kilns, I fire to cone 11. My reduction glaze kilns fire to cone 10.
Favorite surface treatment
porcelain slip on wet clay for surface texture and mark making
a 40-year-old Brent slab roller
I like listening to TV while I work—sports, movies, the news, and M*A*S*H. I like old music from bands like The Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, and Bonnie Raitt.
a small wood stove
I built my studio in the summer of 1995. It’s located in Athens, in southeast Ohio. It’s a beautiful part of the country. We are located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, near the Wayne National Forest. My property shares the road with Strouds Run State Park. It’s an easy place to live. I enjoy the four seasons that we have here; in fact, they inspire me. I feel like my work changes with the seasons. I especially enjoy spring.
My studio building is approximately 2000 square feet. I designed and built it with the help of my graduate students, father-in-law, and a few friends. I think it’s a good design. At one end is a carport for two cars, a storage unit for tools, and packing materials. On the other end is a kiln pad, which is approximately 450 square feet, big enough for two gas kilns. Inside the studio is my office (big enough to double as a bedroom when needed), a bathroom with a shower, a sink, and a hot-water heater. The main studio for actually working is approximately 700–800 square feet. In this space, I have my wheels, work tables, shelves, and an electric kiln. I also put in a large loft space for more storage. My studio has high ceilings and nice windows. It’s a pleasant space, and it feels like home.
The space was designed based on the land available. My property is hilly and heavily forested, and we had to remove a lot of trees. A longer, narrower footprint made the most sense. I have industrial double doors on each end of the studio. Materials and work can be loaded and unloaded on each end. The idea was to bring clay in by the carport doors, make the work in the central area, and then fire at the kiln-facility end. It works. I do find myself moving tables at times, but all of my clay storage and most of my shelving units have wheels.
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, I worked for my professor, Bunny McBride. His studio was very nice and well designed. It made me dream of building my own studio one day. His was connected to his house by a long hallway. His advice was to build your studio separately and several feet from your house so you can kick the clay off your shoes before you enter your home. I did just that.
One downside to my studio is that I have electric heat, which can get expensive in the winter. Since there is no natural-gas hookup, my kilns are propane.
Recently I’ve done some standard maintenance on the studio, including having it painted a few years ago and putting on a new metal roof last month. I also had a crew reinforce the concrete on my kiln pad. I’ve purchased new hard bricks to start building an atmospheric kiln this fall, and this summer I completed a new soft-brick downdraft kiln. The stacking space in this new kiln is approximately 50 cubic feet. The new hard-brick kiln will be about the same size.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I’ve been teaching at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, for 32 years. I feel quite fortunate. My studio operation is paid solely from my income from my home sales that we host once per year, sales of work through galleries, and workshops. Having my studio at home allows me to spend several hours a week working. I prefer mornings in my studio, so I schedule my classes in the afternoons if possible. I’m an early bird, so I can usually get 3–4 hours of studio time in each day before my classes start. I take advantage of my weekends when needed. I think I’ve found a good balance between studio, teaching, and life.
I earned my bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1980, and then went on to earn my master of fine arts from Utah State University in 1983.
Working at different art centers, residencies, and universities is always inspiring, rewarding, and a way to recharge. Ceramics in general has an amazing, welcoming community, and I feel like I have so many friends in the field. I’ve been fortunate to teach at art centers like Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and Penland School of Craft over the years. I’ve been a resident artist at The Archie Bray Foundation and Red Lodge Clay Center on more than one occasion and have participated in international symposiums in Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Japan. All of these experiences were valuable. Working with students and professionals in the field helped me question and reflect on my own ideas. The international experiences offered new cultural insight and technical challenges, often working in ceramics factories with new materials and kilns.
For the past ten years, I’ve had an annual home studio sale that is quite helpful. Beyond those events, I have gallery affiliations that have been pretty supportive over the years. I appreciate galleries and the work they do to support artists. I’ve found that if the gallery personnel are familiar with my work, ideas, interests, and studio practice, they can sell my work more effectively, so I send occasional emails with images and updates. At my home sale, I feel like customers appreciate the face-to-face experience, and it seems to increase sales, especially on larger work.
Marketing is not my strength; however, former students of mine, now studio artists, are quite good at marketing. I’ve reached out to them with questions about online promotion and sales. I’m not certain I want to spend much time during the day updating a website or social-media accounts. Maybe in the near future, when I retire, I will re-address the possibility. For now, I sell enough work to keep my studio lights on. I do have an extensive e-mail list that is used to reach out to clients for my home sale, and also send out a color postcard with images and studio information ahead of each sale. People have traveled from all across Ohio to attend the event.
My students over the years have been an inspiration. I enjoy watching younger students develop and excel, and appreciate the knowledge and skills that graduate-level students bring to the classroom.
For the past 25 years, I have had undergraduate student assistants working in my home studio through Ohio University’s PACE (Program to Aid Career Exploration) program, which is funded by the university. I present a proposal and students can interview if they are interested in the position. Each year is different, based on my show schedule. The students work 10–15 hours a week for me mixing clay and glazes; loading and firing kilns; and photographing, packing, and shipping work. They are also involved in my studio production. I use multiple hump, slump, and slip-casting molds to make new work, so students can be completely engaged in these processes. They also help me with my home-studio sale. In addition to the paycheck, I think the most valuable aspect of the position for the students is the conversations that take place addressing their interests, artwork, and aspirations. It’s a different experience than a classroom of fifteen students. I’ve found it to be one of the more valuable parts of my teaching at the university. It’s been an amazing experience working with these students, and I continue to stay in touch with nearly every one of them. I’ve also hired many students over the years to work on special projects in my studio—from packing work to construction projects, kiln building, and painting.
I’m interested in the history of ceramics. Working in Japan and Europe made me identify with my own history and American ceramics. As a student, I was able to watch artists like Peter Voulkos, Jun Kaneko, and Betty Woodman work, among many others. Voulkos’ ability to manage large amounts of clay, Kaneko’s monumental forms and use of color and pattern, and Woodman’s unique approach to functional forms inspired me. American folk pottery, industrial ceramics, and the West Coast clay movement have had a huge impact on my work. In addition, the Hamada/Leach tradition and the design aesthetics from the German Bauhaus School have always intrigued me.
Like many, I recall reading books including A Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach when I was young. A Century of Ceramics in the United States, 1878–1978 by Garth Clark and Margie Hughto introduced me to so many important figures in the field. I often recommend my students read A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian. Books I’ve shared with students and friends are Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey; The Cave by José Saramago; and The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews.
My wife, Cathy, and I like to travel, even if it’s just a day trip. I recently acquired a small fishing boat that I take to the lake only a mile from my home. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. In the past I’ve been able to do fly-in fishing trips in Canada, salmon fishing in Alaska and the Great Lakes, fly fishing in Montana, and snapper fishing in Florida and New Zealand. Around Ohio and the Midwest, I fish for a variety of pan fish, bass, and walleye. I’m certainly not an expert but I really do enjoy it.
Most Important Lesson
I think it was my father who told me, you only get one first impression. As a teacher, I’ve always tried to practice what I teach. Professionally, I believe hard work pays off.
Studio photos: Isabella Huelsman.