Monday, June 28, 2010

Dennis Meiners Workshop

Crashing Horse Teapot by Dennis Meiners, 
2007 best in show winner at the Portland, Oregon Ceramic Showcase.

I spent a week with Dennis Meiners and his wife Leslie Lee in the summer of 2008, at a glaze intensive workshop they hosted at Hummingbird Studios in the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon. Earlier this month, Dennis came here to Bend, Oregon for a one day workshop at Central Oregon Community College. I love going to clay workshops as I get inspired by seeing how others work with clay. While my style of pottery couldn't be further from Dennis' style, I learned a lot and have some great new ideas of things I can do with my work. Most of all I came away really rejuvenated and inspired, which is what all good workshops do to the participants.

Dennis does 99% of his work with slabs. Amazingly, he does not use a slab roller. While at the glaze workshop in 2008 I discovered by accident that saying "slab roller" within earshot of Dennis was not a good thing to say. Ever. At first I thought it was funny, but soon realized that I'd better cut out saying "slab roller" around him for the sake of my own long term health. However, I was curious to know how he could get along without a (shhh, just in case he's listening...) slab roller, since most of his work starts off as a slab.

What he does to make slabs is to wedge clay and then systematically and with great control throws the clay onto a canvas surface which stretches out the clay. From time to time he uses a large diameter dowel to roll out the clay, then continues to throw the slab down to thin it out more. It's really amazing to watch the slab grow in size, and you start to think that it looks a heck of a lot easier to make a slab this way compared to using a slab roller.

When he has the slab a little thicker than he wants in the final slab, Dennis applies surface decoration to the slab to give it texture, and then he continues to make the slab thinner by the throwing technique outlined above. In this way he is able to have control over how he wants the surface of the slab to look. He can have a completely smooth slab of clay, or a slab that looks amazingly like bark on a tree. One cool thing about Dennis is that he lets the clay lead the way and will explore new directions when they present themselves to him. He says "I have found that the objects that result from the act of making are secondary to being in the process of bringing those objects into existence...I have compared this experience to riding a horse at night. The objective is to trust the horse, not fall off, and be awake to see where I have arrived when the light returns."

Once he has a slab he is satisfied with, he uses it to make many different things. He makes fantastic mugs, teapots, and platters (as well as other beautiful objects). He's a very accomplished brush artist and is a master of glazing, and has a wicked sense of humor. (My kind of guy for sure!)

Adding a handle to a slab mug

Adding a spout to a teapot

Assembling a texturized slab into a box.
Thanks Dennis, for the great workshop and the inspiration! You can check out Dennis' beautiful work at his website, and if you know anyone who is looking for a fantastic property with an amazing art studio, let them know that Hummingbird Studios is looking for a new owner!

Finished slab built mugs - fantastic!