For Burlington-based artist, Duckie Pelenur, ceramics are a mode of communication, tactile messages shaped by his hands. Originally from Massachusetts, here he shares the meditative properties found within his art and Massachussetts’ unique sense of place.
What creative rituals do you have before/while/after working?
Wedging and centering clay. When I throw, I always wedge my clay at least 50 times. It warms the clay up to my hands, communicating directly with my body, not my logical brain. It’s important for me to connect to the clay in a subconscious way, that facilitates my creative process. I’m thinking through my hands, so I need to speak directly through them to the clay.
I also find wedging and centering meditative — they’re an opportunity to sit with my body. Sort through my thoughts and worries at the time. If my energy is off, it comes through the clay, and sometimes that means I have to step back from making for the day.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
Thinking with my hands, through my hands. Working with clay, I primarily throw on the wheel. Throwing lets me communicate with the clay through my hands. I love following the rhythm of the wheel without thinking specifically about the object I’m trying to achieve. Thrown pieces are the negative space of my hands. I find that concept so incredibly compelling, creating a permanent solid piece that is the echo of my body.
Of course, nothing compares to opening the kiln. Relinquishing my pieces to a glorified oven that gets up to 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit for several days can feel heartbreaking. I’m full of anticipation when I open the kiln — anything could’ve happened during the firing! All my glaze could run brown or jump off the pots. And there’s always a chance that things will just explode. Unloading the kiln takes time and steady hands, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see the results of each firing.
Was there a time in your career when you felt discouraged and how did you get past it?
When I was in high school I felt very consistently discouraged in the art world. The artistic community around me was a world of paintings and drawings, emphasis on photorealism. That artistic process simply isn’t how I work, so I felt very at odds with the expectations of those I wanted to impress. Returning to art in college, in a totally different context, and with an outlook detached from photorealism, allowed me to find my rhythm and passion in ceramics.
Where’s the strangest place you find inspiration?
The tiniest bits of color in everyday life. I work in glaze mixing, and the results can be pretty inconsistent when trying new recipes. Finding a tiny pool of beautiful red color on a piece where the glaze has run brown and streaky brings me so much joy — and so much motivation.
What’s on your bedside table?
A leopard print tissue box. A children’s cloud lamp from Ikea. A Hello Kitty teacup clock. An old candle jar full of safety pins. A new candle jar. A Garfield trinket box holding old earrings. An ashtray. Meds. Two spice village jars. Tarragon and marjoram. And a mason jar of water sitting on a crocheted flower coaster.
Name somewhere that embodies a true sense of place for you.
The beaches in Massachusetts by where I grew up. There’s a rocky beach by my childhood home that must be my favorite place on Earth. I loved climbing across the hot rocks in the sun, avoiding the slippery seaweed as I balance over a tidepool, watching the shrimp shoot back and forth. There was the smell of salt in the warm breeze as the sun sets over the harbor in the distance, old bones washed up, and worms with too many legs squirming under the rocks.
What scent reminds you of home?
Beeswax and sawdust. My mom keeps bees, and I grew up sitting by the flowers in the yard, letting the bees land on my arms. Nothing beats the sweetness of honey freshly spun out of hive frames, nor the childhood joy of chewing the beeswax scraps.