expressive red earthenware by susan mchenry
When I took my first ceramics class in 2002, shortly after moving to Kalamazoo, MI from my hometown in upstate New York, little did I know how much clay would change the course of my life. I soon felt a calling to the material, and over the years, I’ve responded to the desire to devote more space in my life for it. Today, I teach the red earthenware class at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where I took my first class so many years ago, and I have my own studio at our home where I'm surrounded by trees and a big open sky. In the tradition of her late sister Mira, our dog Zuzu often keeps me company in the studio. I enjoy the daily rhythms of my studio practice of making, decorating, and firing. Clay has been one of my greatest teachers. I’ve learned about my own determination as I struggled when first learning to throw on the potter's wheel. And today when I face an obstacle in the studio, I can see how much I’ve grown to love solving problems. A life in clay means that I will never be done learning all it has to teach me. The excitement I feel in knowing this allows me to approach the material each day with an openness to the unknown and where it might lead me.
I'm continually inspired by both the strength and vulnerability of clay, how it requires either a force or gentleness of hand at various stages. My goal is to create expressive and lively forms, and I take this into consideration at each stage of the making process. I utilize a variety of wheel thrown and hand building techniques and enjoy altering forms by stretching, pushing, and cutting the clay to create dynamic shapes. Once a piece begins to dry, I layer it with colored slips (liquid clay) to create my surface designs. I am inspired by nature—primarily trees and flowers—and it's these images I keep turning to when I sit down to decorate. I try to approach each form without being overly fixed on the outcome, but rather allowing the clay to direct me. It’s this direct experience with the clay that keeps me engaged and always striving to make the best pots I can.
I believe a handmade pot can enhance our daily lives and elevate simple moments we might otherwise take for granted. For instance, drinking our morning coffee or tea from a handmade mug allows for a sensory experience that a commercially made mug can’t offer. As I refine my pots, I consider how a rim will feel against lips and the curve and comfort of a handle. Such considerations are often lacking in mass produced pottery. In this way, handmade objects invite us to slow down and be engaged with what we are eating or drinking. My hope is that the pots I make can bring a sense of intimacy to our busy lives.
On a practical note, I make durable, sturdy pots that can stand up to daily use. All my work is food safe, lead-free, dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe.
Click here to read my essay about handmade objects.
View my resume.