Chris Bieniek – Red Lodge Clay Center

Chris BieniekBozeman, Montana

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A native of New Hampshire, Chris Bieniek followed his love of the mountains to Montana, where he now takes inspiration for his art from the beautiful natural surroundings. His current body of work involves explorations with local materials, such as digging for natural clay to mix into unique glazes. He shares studio space with longtime mentor and close friend Josh DeWeese, and together they enjoy developing and experimenting with wood firing. He previously worked with Jason Hess and Stephen Schaeffer at Northern Arizona University for his post- baccalaureate studies, gaining experience with various firing techniques and kiln styles. Working at Santa Fe Clay as a warehouse manager provided insights into the social and logistical aspects of operating as a professional artist, and he was inspired to pursue his own career in the field of ceramics. Having studied at Montana State University in Bozeman for his undergraduate degree in ceramics, he felt a deep connection with the Gallatin Valley and surrounding mountain ranges, and he returned to Bozeman where he founded North Ridge Ceramics. The abundance of local clay and the beauty of the Rocky Mountain front continues to inspire his creation.

My experiences going into the mountains of Montana influence my current body of work. Each excursion requires layers of planning and preparation. A complex series of variables including the weather, elevation, and snowpack make each experience unique.

Each piece incorporates layers of clay, slip, and glaze. Firing atmosphere, ash, and post firing decorating techniques create depth, starting with the clay body and rising all the way to the surface of the finished piece. As I create my work, I react to how the clay responds to the freshly applied slip, and how the glaze sits on that piece after bisque firing just as I respond to changing conditions in the mountains.

My firing method is primarily wood firing. This technique creates dazzling surfaces as the kiln reaches peak temperature, building ash and imprinting its atmosphere on the pots. Throughout the roughly eighteen hours of firing, I pay attention to the “breath” of the kiln and how it reacts to each stoke of wood in the fire box.

All of these processes allow me to build layers that will work together to engage the user and invite exploration and discovery.

As you gaze past the surface of the glaze you find the folds, peaks, and valleys of the slip hugging the form below. I view this exploration the same way I view my exploration of the mountains—a never-ending journey through form, light, and personal ritual.