Bryan VanBenschoten’s career may have taken a very different path had the Ford Motor Company not have scaled back their hiring and begun layoffs in the early 1970s when he finished his military service. Raised in the Catskill Mountains in New York State, Bryan moved to Michigan intending to work for the auto manufacturing giant despite his BFA in ceramics. Instead, he embarked on a nearly 40-year career at The Edison Institute at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village where he taught others the art of early pottery production.
Now an adjunct professor of ceramics at Adrian College, Bryan says that despite his years of teaching, he actually hated school himself. He was always staring out the window, longing to be outdoors, until an art teacher in high school recognized and nurtured his artistic abilities. Despite his own difficulties as a student, Bryan enjoys teaching. His students challenge him to think about his own opinions and their work often inspires his own. He even used one student’s scrap material to inspire a project of his own.
Bryan’s work has evolved throughout his career. Early on, his ceramic pieces were designed purely with functionality in mind. They looked nice, yes, but aesthetics were secondary to their purpose. In the last few years, he’s begun designing his pieces with more attention to visual appeal. Instead of just mugs or bowls, he’s doing sculptures in clay and wood, and he’s contemplating a series of work with metal and concrete. When asked why he shifted gears, he answers with his own question. “You can make 100 or 150 of something, and sure, you’ll sell them, but is that all you want to do?”
He draws his inspiration from some unexpected places. Something as mundane as a television commercial recently inspired him to create a laminated plywood sculpture. Sometimes, his own work inspires him to create something different than he intended. When a sculpture he was working on began to remind him of a Gourami fish, a whole series of Gouramis was born into his studio.
He hasn’t abandoned his functional pieces though. Bryan designs a line of beautiful beer mugs for the craft brewery scene. He’s partnered with Cotton Brewing Company in Adrian to do a signature line for them, and he’ll bring his wares to sell the to public at Adrian’s Blues & Brews Festival in October.
As a demonstration artist at this year’s Art-A-licious, Bryan will demonstrate a pottery firing technique called Raku. Raku is an Asian technique often used in pottery for tea ceremonies. It is a much shorter process than tradition firing, taking a few hours instead of several days, and Bryan initially thought of that quick process as “cheating.” He has embraced the technique lately though, and he’ll show visitors how he creates different finishes by surrounding the pottery with various organic materials, like straw, paper, or sawdust.
Don’t miss this exciting demonstration, and be sure to visit Bryan’s booth at this year’s Art-A-Licious!