Meet the Maker: Morgan Willenbrink
Today we’re talking with Morgan Willenbrink, the creator behind some of our favorite production pieces like our heartwarming Morgan Candle, our sweet Flora Bud Vase, ever popular Emilia Charcuterie Board, Emilia Share Board and brand new Emilia Pinch Bowl
Morgan does a variety of things around Rookwood Pottery, like creating the one-of-a-kind items you can find in our showroom, creating custom dinnerware pieces for some of your favorite local restaurants, and prototyping new products.
Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside and outside of the studio? What is a day in the life in your studio like?
Morgan: Everyday is different. My tasks, on a day-to-day basis, revolve around the process of throwing and what I call ‘babysitting’. So much of working with clay is really just waiting until the right time to move on to the next step. Starting with a ball of clay on the wheel is just the beginning. Once a piece is thrown, it is set aside to firm up which can take anywhere from an hour to a day. Once a piece is just firm enough to handle, I cut it from the bat and flip it upside down to even the drying. Waiting for the piece to become leather hard, the next step is to return to the wheel to trim the foot and refine the shape itself. From there, the piece is left uncovered to thoroughly dry before bisque firing. This process gets a little tricky when you have several pieces of various stages in the drying process where you have to jump from throwing to trimming to building and so on.
Can you tell us about your design process and how it has evolved?
Morgan: My design process is entirely hands on. I am not a drawer. 2-D is not my thing; I really do think in three-dimension. When just jumping on the wheel and going for it and working through the details of a piece physically isn’t an option, I’ve found ways of communicating ideas in other ways than traditional sketching. For example, I brainstorm forms and new shapes by cutting silhouettes from paper or create clay maquettes or mini versions to represent different approaches and ideas.
Do you use any specific tools to achieve your results?
Morgan: My hands! And my wheel is pretty important, too.
When you started college, did you have any idea that ceramics would eventually become something that you do everyday?
Morgan: Not exactly. I was introduced to ceramics in high school which prompted my interest to go to school for fine arts. I went to the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Architecture, Art and Planning program. It wasn’t until the second half of my sophomore year at university that I even enrolled in a ceramics studio class. I think the beginning of my third year in DAAP was when I learned how to throw on the wheel which was ironically when I began working towards earning my teaching license which is where I saw my career headed. By the time I was getting ready to graduate with my bachelors as well as my teaching license, I took a chance with Rookwood and started the week after graduation and here I am almost 2 years later.
Do you feel you have taken any risks to get to where you are today?
Morgan: Sure! I think the biggest risk was looking past the stigma that follows a career in art and doing it anyway.
How do you separate your personal work from the work you do for Rookwood?
Morgan: The only distinguishable difference between my personal work and the work I do for Rookwood is the purpose. I guess it’s all about the mindset. My work at Rookwood is all about achieving an end product. It is a collaborative effort between myself and our team which allows me to focus primarily on the formal aspects and does not limit the potential of each individual piece based on my own ability. My personal work is significantly less organized. I can experiment and create without means to an end which allows me to take risks and push the limits of both the material and myself.
Do you have a philosophy or motto when it comes to your work?
Morgan: I read an article a few years back that has stuck with me for some time. “The clay will tell you how you are”. The learning of pottery is technical but as soon as things click, it become something much more telling.
Do you have a favorite work or piece that you treasure? Did you sell it or do you keep your favorites?
Morgan: I have a few pieces that are especially sentimental that I won’t give up. They are by no means my best or most successful pieces. One of these is my first ever thrown piece; It’s chunky, unbalanced and SO heavy. Its imperfections are exactly what make it so special. It represents the beginning of my journey and is such a fun object of comparison as I continue to grow both personally and professionally.
Do you work with any mediums other than clay?
Morgan: Although I am definitely a clay gal, I have worked in all kinds of mediums in the past. If it wasn’t clay, I think metal would be my medium of choice. I learned to weld actually before I ever learned to throw on the wheel!
Any advice for an aspiring ceramic artist?
Morgan: Patience, persistence, and YouTube.
Any hints to any special projects in the works?
Morgan: We are starting to explore beyond pots! Keep an eye out for handmade and one-of-a-kind things created using various techniques off of the wheel!
Thank you for taking the time to chat, Morgan!