From Dancer to Ceramic Art Gallery Owner to Studio Potter

I love to hear the interesting, sometimes fascinating, stories how fellow studio potters found their way to clay. For Dubhe Carreno, it was a chance encounter when she was pursuing another art path: ballet.

In today’s post, an excerpt from the October 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Dubhe shares how her path went from ballerina, to ceramic art gallery owner, and finally to studio potter and ceramics instructor. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


Studio Potter Dubhe Carreno Shares her Career Trajectory

A Passion for Dance and an Introduction to Clay

I will never forget the moment I discovered clay. I was 16 years old, studying ballet and living in Venezuela, and by chance, I ended up getting a ride from someone who was a ceramic artist. She casually showed me her studio and as I entered the room I felt I entered a magical space. There were pieces everywhere, some cups and functional work and some sculptures of musicians. I was amazed by the fact that she made these objects; it was fantastic. Although my passion was dance, a seed was planted that day. I immediately bought myself some clay. I had no clue of kilns, firings and glazes, or anything, but wanted to touch this amazing, pliable material. So anytime a friend visited I made them make a two-inch clay head. I ended up with a hilarious collection of characters. Later on my mom analyzed (as only she can) each one, describing the personalities and Freudian psycho-sexual idiosyncrasies of each of my friends. I was a bit surprised how right on target she was, but as a true teenager, I did not admit that to her, of course.

Dubhe Carreño at Ballet Theater of Boston, 1994.

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Learning the Gallery Business and Addressing a Community Need

While getting my MFA at SAIC, I worked at a gallery both part-time and full time, and enjoyed every part of the gallery business, from developing relationships in the Chicago art community to writing press releases and installing exhibitions at the gallery and at shows like SOFA. As a graduate student and ceramic artist, I noticed that there was not much support in Chicago for ceramics. Where would my peers and I show work after we graduated? What opportunities existed for artists working with clay? This quest pushed me to transition from art student to entrepreneur, curator, and art dealer. Having experienced the art business by working at a gallery for five years before I opened mine was essential to prepare me for this new adventure.

My goal was to create a platform dedicated to contemporary ceramics that illustrated the diversity of concepts being explored by many contemporary artists, and to reflect the ongoing development and interdisciplinary participation within the field. Also, I wanted to be in the presence of these outstanding and beautiful works that other established ceramic artists were making. Curating and creating beautiful exhibitions was my creative outlet. 

This Quiet Dust Dinnerware Collection, 13½ in. (34 cm) in diameter, glaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation.

Shifting to the Studio

Although I loved the gallery business, and feel very proud of the run of the galley, almost at its 10 year mark I decided to close the space and begin another chapter of my life. I was pregnant with my first son Julian (Micah came two years later), and knew it would not be possible to run this gallery without my full undivided attention. I embraced this change as an opportunity to claim my own studio practice, bringing with me an invaluable set of skills. It took me a few years to reestablish my technique and develop my own aesthetic. It was intimidating to move from the dealer side to the artist side of the field. As an art dealer, I was in the presence of greatness, I knew what good work looked like, but my skills were rusty and I needed time to refine and develop my craftsmanship in the studio.

As I continued to polish my skills and develop as an artist and designer, I formed This Quiet Dust Ceramics—a ceramic studio dedicated to creating functional porcelain tableware. I love the utilitarian nature of my work and strongly believe in being surrounded by beautiful handmade objects that enhance your everyday experience.

As I develop as a studio artist, I reflect on my previous experiences—the strict discipline of dance as well as the precise notion of stillness and motion (body positions and movement); the delicate relationship between anticipation, tension, rhythm, quietness, and movement needed to create a very specific aesthetic; and the way that every line and contour delivers a very precise expression. The same thing is true when I am in the studio making tableware. The minimal change of direction of the contour of a bowl delivers a different expression, every subtle movement in any direction contributes to delivering an expression of an idea.

There is also the understanding that craftsmanship comes from many hours of work, from the familiarity that your hands acquire from the constant contact with the material, knowing its behavior and its habits or tendencies. Your relationship with it becomes one of understanding—when to apply pressure, when to release, when to be forceful or delicate; you only learn that with time and patience. In terms of technique and craftsmanship I think ceramics is similar to dance. You can’t hide lack of technique, it is transparent, beauty reveals itself after the roughness is polished. This is not to say it can’t be rustic, but only time trains your eye to distinguish the difference between deliberate spontaneity of a skillful touch and heavy-handed roughness.

Process and clay are my main inspiration. I love clay’s inherent nature and the way it, (like us) is always changing, even if you are not touching it. My relationship with clay and the way I understand its nature is almost a microcosm of how I relate to my family, people, and the world around me. You need to really know its behavior to begin a fair dialog with it. Clay teaches me to listen, to be patient, to spend time doing a job right, to be present minded and to observe myself, to not judge too quickly, to accept, and to not be attached. I am inspired by process, which is led by clay itself and its natural ability to be altered and transformed by forces ranging from a delicate pinch to a blasting fire. My artistic practice is an extension of my personal growth. The meditative quality of working in the studio brings me closer to present-mindedness and to a place where intention materializes in front of my eyes. Nature and simplicity inspire me. The perfect but often asymmetrical forms in nature are important driving forces in my work. I look to develop glazes that remind me of rocks, bark, moss, and earth and combine them with forms that are not necessarily round. They own their dance and as a group they have movement and harmony.

This Quiet Dust Ceramics exhibition at “The Space” Kevin Reilly Showroom, 2015.

  • I am so impressed with the calming nature of the forms and glazes. They work so well together to whisper a relaxing tune. Bravo! Are the glazes commercially available or did you mix them?

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