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(Mud)Shot: Bruce Gholson and Samantha Henneke of Bulldog Pottery

Today, again, I have a first for you here on (Mud)Bucket.  In conjunction with the series of studio tours, I hope to bring you a plethora of artist profiles this year.  Please join me in welcoming our first artist profile from Bulldog Pottery in North Carolina. Bruce and Samantha were some of my first encouraging readers here on (Mud)Bucket and their crystalline glazes caught my attention immediately. It brings me great pleasure to be able to share with all of you their story and their fantastic work.  Please peak in on their blog (which is also great) and their website to see more of this duo's work as I couldn't possibly share as many images as I wanted to. 

And again, without further ado, the stars of Bulldog Pottery...

Samantha and Bruce with their adorable pup, Max

Names: Bruce Gholson and Samantha Henneke 
Location: Seagrove, NC 
Years in clay: Bruce- 37 years and Samantha- 20 years 
Website: www.bulldogpottery.com

Do you remember how or when, exactly, the clay bug bit you?

Samantha: Yes I remember very clearly. When I went to Virginia Tech I was trying to find what I was interested in doing for my “career” in life. My folks always said every semester take a class that I really enjoyed. I signed up for an art class every semester and figured I might as well get a minor in art. I needed another semester's credit and went to the sculpture class. Apparently it was full, but I was told to check out the pottery class next door. To tell you the truth I was not that enthused about taking a pottery class, but there was room and I needed the art credit. Funny to think that this pottery art class would end up being my “soul” focus in life.

Bruce: As a sophomore in college during Christmas break, my sisters brought home clay from high school. Love at first touch.

shimmering vase by Bruce

whimsical jars by Samantha

Can you choose three words to describe your work?

S: Tactile, intriguing, and thoughtful

B: Eclectic, arcane, sublime

 Vera Lehndorff portrait by Holger Trülzsch

I find that as ceramic artists we can get really focused on the ceramic art world and forget what’s happening outside of it. Can you name a non-ceramic artist whose work inspires you?

S: Vera Lehndorff, Vera was a model in the 1960’s. She teamed up with photographer Andreas Hubertus Ilse in the 1990’s to work on a series of self portraits.  On her website I really like portfolios III and IV. I love the idea of camouflage. I always wondered how to bring something like that into my glaze paintings.

B: Ernst Fuchs, especially early works in pencil, ink, and crayon.

mixed media sculpture by Dirk Staschke

The directions you can choose as a ceramic artist are so many and so varied that we often have to choose a few areas to focus our expertise on. Is there a technique or skill, apart from your own, that you admire or aspire to?

S: I would love to be able to sculpt. The figurative sculptor Doug Jeck can make amazing feelings happen with his hands.

B: The ability, skills, and vision of sculptors like Dirk Staschke and Sun Koo Yuh.

agate mug by bruce

glaze painting by Samantha

As makers, we are often surprised by what our audience likes best of our work. And our audience’s faves aren’t always the same as our own. Of your own work, do you have a favorite piece or project?

S: I really like to work on my glaze paintings. I focus my compositions on the insect, and recently I have started to add a bit more fantasy narrative and figurative imagery into the work. Soon we will set up a painting studio and I plan to work out more ideas on paper.

B: Always changing, but experiments with the rich, graining effects of working with agate clay made with porcelain and red stoneware is a current favorite.

Alternately, what is your favorite part of your creative process?

S: I love to make pots on the wheel. But I also get a thrill out of glazing.

B: The personal creative aspect I most enjoy is when my mind is in the zone that seems receptive to flashes of intuition and insights into new possibilities to be explored. For me these intuitions can be about new forms or texture possibilities, but most frequently they are about how to tweak or spice a glaze.

Samantha's side of the new studio

Can you describe your studio space in a few words or sentences?

S: New, spacious, concrete floors, paradise

B: We're moving into a new sumptuous studio space with lots of light and views. There is a space for everything; it's very decadent.

S: (in response to Bruce) Now we just need to learn how to organize all of it!

What is the one tool you can’t live without? (Nice try, but a wheel doesn’t count.)

S: I don't want to live without a scale for mixing glazes, but I am sure someone will say 'just take a little of this and a little of that' which sure you can but I would like to have one variable of glazing that is somewhat consistent.

B: Edges! Everything that cuts and scrapes.

insect tile installation by Samantha

There are ceramic residencies, studios, schools, galleries, conferences, and museums all over the world. Where has your artwork taken you or where would you like it to take you in the future?

S: Bruce and I went together to London around four years ago with the focus on visiting museums.  We visited as many museums as we could in the 11 days we were there. I planned morning, noon, and night's worth of looking at pots, paintings, and artifacts. We spent four days in the British Museum alone.  Absolutely amazing. I just found out on their Twitter that the British Museum has 3500 doors. It was such a wonderful trip. It was the first time Bruce and I spent in front of the objects in person as opposed to looking at them in books.

B: Over the years some of my work has found its way into museums and other collections. Now I think it is cool when we find Bulldog Pottery popping up online in different venues.

photography by Samantha

Bruce's collection of arrowheads and fishing flies

Artists are multifaceted people and we often have more than one passion. What is an activity outside of ceramic work that you really enjoy?

S: I enjoy photographing insects in the garden.

B: Finding arrowheads and tying flies for fishing.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from another artist?

S: I went to a presentation by Michael Sherrill, a North Carolina artist, at the North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove and he said, “if you ever have an idea- do it, don’t wonder if someone will like it or not. Just give it a try.”

B: “The most important aspects of pots are its ending and attachments. The feet, lips and handles can make or break a pot no mater how well it is thrown”: Michael Simon 1977 sharing a studio space at UGA.

bottle by Bruce

Teachers always impress the importance of the sketchbook and designers often develop mood-boards as creative as their actual work. How do you collect inspiration?

S: We collect books.

B: When I don’t have my sketchbook or notebook with me, my ideas go on scraps of paper to be collected together later.

If you could have a one-on-one workshop with any ceramist (living or not), who would it be?

S+B: Can we both be present for each other’s workshop?

How about some more preferences, perhaps a bit more trivial, shall we…

-Favorite color?

S: Green.

B: Shino on porcelain.

-Coffee or tea?

S+B: Coffee.

-Last good film or book?

S+B: Avatar!! On the big screen. This is the first film we’ve seen at a movie theater since Titanic. We love watching movies, but we watch them at home via Netflix.

-Minimalist or maximalist?

S+B: We like to decorate our work and actually struggle not to fill all space with some kind of mark. So we definitely are not minimalist. And after reading Wikipedia’s definition we are not maximalist either. Not sure what definition we would call ourselves.

-Dogs or cats?

S+B: Dogs- especially strains of Staffordshires.

-Favorite season?

S: Spring.

B: Fall.

-Music, silence, or NPR in the studio?

S: Music.

B: A mixture of NPR and music.

-Anchovies or mushrooms?

S+B: Chicken wings with homemade blue cheese dressing and a movie. Here is our homemade blue cheese dressing…. I found this recipe from the Horn of the Moon Cookbook by Ginny Callan:

1 cup sour cream, 1 1/2 cups of crumbled blue cheese (if you freeze the blue cheese it crumbles easily), 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1 tbs of dill weed. Put 'em together and mix it up. 

crystaline glaze detail

fossil imagery detail

And a bit more personal… There are two very distinct themes in your work- crystalline glazes and insect/fossil imagery. How did these aspects come together?

S+B: We both have strong nature base leanings in our imagery development and sourcing. Glaze development can also be looked as a nature or mineralogy inspired study, especially when exploring macro crystalline glazes. If you read about the elemental compositions of gems, crystals, and mineral ores, many of them can suggest ideas for glaze development. Like macro crystalline glazes, many gems, crystals, and minerals were precipitated out of molten masses and solutions. The iridescent qualities of some of our crystalline glazes lend themselves to emulations of the beautiful surfaces and colors of insect bodies. You can almost look at ceramics explorations as sped up natural and mineralogical processes.

So it seems like you two actually collaborate on many of your pieces. Is this true, or do you try and keep your bodies of work fairly separate?

S+B: We work together collaboratively, primarily to facilitate filling kilns together in time for deadlines, usually doing events as Bulldog Pottery, rather than as an individual.  Deadlines always come faster than you expect, and it helps to have two of us to get a kiln loaded in time.  We shift back and forth between gas reduction and electric firing depending on what project is approaching.  We test glazes together, and as a team we brainstorm new ideas about the glaze results.  We frequently have individual preferences in the use of colors, designs, patterns, and imagery, but also we have a lot in common as far as tastes go.  We both throw and we both glaze, and we both have our own individual ideas and interpretations but we work out many ideas together.  We bounce a lot of ideas off of one another and also ask one another for help solving problems.  Frequently, one of us will throw a form that the other one likes.  Then that person will interpret that form in their own way, so there is a back and forth of development, and for the most part a distinctive form interpretation.  At least we can usually tell who threw what.  So yes there is collaboration, but also a lot of individually designed and executed works coming out of our studio.

Do you have a blog we can follow?

Lastly, where can we see your work up close and personal?

S+B: We sell out of our shop here in Seagrove for the most part. We do exhibitions every so often. We have been planning our annual pottery event called Cousins in Clay that will take place on June 5th and 6th.

Thank you again, Samantha and Bruce (and Max), for taking the time to share with us so much about yourselves and your work.


If you are interested in being profiled here on (Mud)Bucket, send an email to themudbucket@gmail.com.


Michael Kline said...

Tremendous, Thanks B and S and JL!!!

And I thought I knew my cousins?!?!?

This is a great idea. I look forward to more of your interviews. You have great curiosity!

Jen Mecca said...

What a great post. I'm glad Bulldog pottery shared with us your blog and the interview. Wonderful read and very cool blog!
Jen Mecca

Marina said...

Really nice article on Sam and Bruce, look forward to reading more of your blog.

Marina Bosetti

FetishGhost said...

Great article Jesse. That was a fun read. A great start for a Monday.

Anonymous said...

What an incredible body of work. Love it.

Jeff said...

Bulldog is a favorite! Thank you for doing this! Looking forward to reading more like this.

Linda Fahey said...

I have studio envy! What a great article/post/'conversation' - really interesting...and such beautiful work by Sam and Bruce!

Anonymous said...

Another great job, Jesse lu!
Looking forward to more interviews.

Don said...

Great interview! My wife and I have been Bulldog fans for more than a decade and have talked to them lots, but I still learned lots from the interview!

Ben Carter said...

Just ran across your blog. Great post on Bull Dog Pottery. Looking forward to reading your other posts.

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