In 1968, Peter Deneen took his first pottery class at Luther College and learned how to throw pots. Now, 47 years later, we are on pace to produce over 400,000 custom handmade pottery mugs – WOW. How we got here has much to do with Professor Dean Swartz arranging a workshop at Luther College, in Iowa, by world famous potter Marguerite Wildenhain.
In this post I’ll be taking excerpts from An Eye Witness Anthology: Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus.
Peter recalls, “It was during that workshop that Marguerite had a cancellation for her summer class at Pond Farm, in Northern California. She asked if there were any students that would like to come. I was doing well with my throwing and enjoyed working with clay, so I asked to be considered. Another former student, Dennis Christian, who had taken a week off from his teaching job to attend Marguerite’s workshop, also wanted to fill the opening. Marguerite decided that she could find space for both of us to attend.
I flew from St. Paul to San Francisco and took a bus to Santa Rosa, which was as close as I could get to Guerneville. My plan was to hitchhike the last few miles from Santa Rosa to Guerneville and then somehow find my way to Pond Farm. Hitchhiking was not my forte as I stood and walked on the side of the road for hours, not getting one ride. After dark, I went into a local pub on the road for some food, drink, and to look for a kind person who might give me a ride to Pond Farm. After several hours of mingling with the locals, I finally met that stranger who know where it was and offered to give me a ride all the way there. Because I didn’t want to be late for class in the morning, I asked him to drop me off at Marguerite’s gate. I crossed the road and wandered off in the field, rolled out my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
In the morning, I waited until a few other students arrived, not wanting to be the first, and then rolled up my bag and joined the others. As we gathered around the tree to start class, one of Marguerite’s first questions was, “Who slept in the field last night?” I was sure I had been quiet and I was amazed that she knew I was there.
I told her that it was me and was informed that it was not legal to sleep there and that I should not plan on doing that again. I explained my hitchhiking adventure and that it was not my plan to spend the night on her doorstep. She assigned me to work at her wheel, so I felt that my enthusiasm must have struck a good chord with her. I only had had one semester of pottery at Luther and felt pretty intimidated by all the advanced students she had accepted. Because I was new to her workshop she had me start with dog dishes and go through all of the throwing steps again. This was a relief for me, as I knew I could do the steps and I wouldn’t be call upon to be creative for a few days.”
That creativity was eventually called upon and by the end of the summer Marguerite challenged Peter to take five separate thrown forms to be assembled into a single vessel that can pour. It was when Peter took this piece (pictured above) and successfully watered plants around Pond Farm that Marguerite said to him, “You can be a potter.”
We are not sure who it was that told him he could be a business owner, employer, grandfather or dad – but he does it all with grace and ease. As today is Peter’s 67th birthday, we are all enamored with his creative spirit, eye for quality and detail, and above of all – his generosity.
Happy Birthday Dad!
Thanks for reading ~
Niles Deneen CEO, Marketing