It doesn’t matter how big the box is: human beings simply don’t fit in them.
Creativity, experimentation, exploration — these elements rage against the sides of the box until they knock them down, freeing the spirit within. And the more stubborn and determined the person, the more he or she resists the box — and the more interesting their story.
So it is with Dave Raynalds, a Portland potter who specializes in slab ceramics, a technique that involves hand-shaping slabs of clay into finished platters, plates, and bowls.
Not a Box: Slab Built Ceramic Shapes
“All my work is slab built,” Raynalds says. “I prefer the spontaneous, loose, lively and organic shapes that slab building can give.”
Raynalds first experimented with the slab ceramic technique in college, when he took an art class every term, from drawing to macrame. During his pottery class, he created a vast and impressive array of items, all slab built, and then was mildly . . . irritated when he received a lower grade because he had done no wheel work. It was 40 years later that persistent insistence by his wife, enrolled in a pottery class at the Multnomah Arts Center, convinced Raynalds to give it another try.
“I knew I would love it, but I didn’t want to intrude on her thing,” Raynalds explains. “It didn’t take much convincing, though, and now we both spend four or five days a week at the studio at the center.”
Inspired by Betty Feves
Raised in Pendleton, Raynalds attended junior high and high school when Betty Feves, the nationally famous ceramicist and musician, was on the school board, so all through his pre-college schooling, he received excellent education in the arts, due to the district’s commitment to providing it. In college, he took his degree in geology, and because of his tendency toward kicking the box, embarked upon a career as a cabinet maker, or as he puts it,
“I got into woodworking by buying so many woodworking tools that I had to turn professional. I worked as a cabinet maker for 30 years.”
Now retired from cabinet making, Raynalds incorporates his woodworking experience into his pottery, as he takes a woodworker’s approach to clay using similar building techniques.
Out of the Box Woodworking Tricks for Slab Built Ceramics
“Many woodworking tricks translate well to slab-built ceramics. But unlike wood, if you cut something too short, you can add more clay and move on.
“Clay lends itself to more organic shapes than wood. This appeals to me because complex shapes and curves can be generated very fast, as opposed to wood.”
His geology studies come into play with painting watercolor landscapes, a pursuit he adopted five years ago on a canoe trip in Utah, complete with sketchbook and portable paints. And coming full circle, the painting incorporates back into the slab ceramics, as he chooses and uses glazes and creates designs. Nothing is isolated, and no experience is wasted.
“I am a born tinkerer and maker,” Raynalds says. “I’ve made my own recumbent bicycle, a replica of an Aleutian skin kayak, a ten-foot computer-controlled telescope, and many other gadgets.
“I enjoy sewing my own camping equipment — panniers, backpacks — as well as participating in family quilting round robins. As a cabinet maker, I worked for artists making large installations and custom framing.
“I was one of the first bicycle messengers in Portland, and have crossed the country twice on my bicycle.”
Eclectic, Unique, Out of the Box Resume
It’s an eclectic, highly personalized resume, one that evidences the owner’s willingness to try not only new, but seemingly unrelated things. For instance, regarding being a bicycle messenger, something many people have encountered only through Kevin Bacon’s 1986 movie, Quicksilver, Raynalds says,
“I got the job from an ad in a newspaper. At that time, there were no bike messengers except an old guy who delivered office supplies.
“I delivered mostly legal papers, real estate documents, and blueprints on a one-speed Schwinn with coaster brakes. I did this for four years.”
Citing Goodwill as a favorite source for texture materials and tools for his work, Raynalds creates his own molds and stamps to embellish his pottery, with the focus on each piece being as highly individual as its creator.
“While I was a cabinet maker, I tried to do high end work, or interesting work,” Raynalds says. As a potter, “I rarely make commissions or sets of things — I would be bored if I have to make something twice.”
Always a Surprise: Slab Built Ceramic Art
Tinker. Tailor. Potter Guy. Dave Raynalds is as eclectic, and unexpected, as the art he creates. And because he refuses to acknowledge the box, much less crawl into it, the end result often comes as a surprise to the artist himself.
“I usually have some vague idea about what I want to make when I start a project, but this can change as I progress.
“Many times the finished project is not recognizable from the starting ideas as other ideas are presenting themselves.”
Out of the box.
Dave Raynalds is the featured Art Event artists at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, September 10, 2018, through Saturday, October 6, 2018.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.