Functional Art

Husband-and-wife team
have built quite a following

The Bowens met while studying ceramic art in college

(September 2016) – After 20 years of collaborating on their artwork, husband-and-wife team Bill and Gean Bowen are still as creative as ever. The unique craftsmanship they put into each piece has gained them quite a following at many area juried art shows, including the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art.
The couple met in 1991 at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where they were both pursuing a master’s degree in Fine Arts in ceramics. After graduating in 1994, they married in Neu Chapel at the University of Evansville campus, where Bill obtained his bachelor’s degree in Commercial Art. Gean also holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Oakland City College in Oakland City, Ind.

Photo by Emily Ward

Gean and Bill Bowen display a sample of their ceramic work.

The couple spent a year teaching conversational English and traveling in South Korea, where Gean was born. They settled in Charlestown, Ind., which is Bill’s hometown. In addition to creating distinctive artwork, they hold full-time jobs at The New Washington State Bank. Bill works as an Information Technology coordinator, and Gean works in the Loan Department.
Bill, 51, described their work as “mostly functional pottery with decorated surfaces, but we do occasionally make some sculpture as well.” His role in the creation process is to “do the throwing and trimming, creating the forms for Gean to manipulate. I also load and fire the kilns.”
Gean’s contribution usually consists of “carving and glazing for collaborated pottery works,” she said. She described their pottery as, “unique, functional ware pieces that are finished with the best craftsmanship possible and give pleasure to touch and to use every day.” For their sculpted work it is, “simple and quiet objects that we hope give personal stories and messages to each viewer.”
Their pottery is “very functional, but some of the sculptural pieces are more for decorative purposes,” she said. The couple produces a few usual colors and forms, “but tries to make some new and different very year.”
They are not mass production potters because of the limited time each has to create their artwork. They find it exciting when they get feedback from people who have purchased their work. Many times customers will tell them that they are using their cups, bowls and jars, etc. in their everyday life.
Sometimes Bill will create pieces on his own. “I make abstract wheel-thrown sculptures and model the clay into octopus and divers.”
The Bowens built a studio in 2007, having previously worked out of a two-car attached garage. “Our studio is behind our house attached by a breezeway. It’s a 24x32-foot space divided into three rooms; a main work area, a spray room and a kiln room,” said Bill.
The main work area of the studio is complete with tables, three throwing wheels, a sink, and a slab roller. One room contains three kilns of various sizes and the smallest room has a spray booth used for applying glazes.
They mainly work with porcelain and brown stoneware. It is fired twice; the first firing reaches about 1,800 degrees, and then glazes are applied. The second firing goes to about 2,200 degrees. Most of their work is fired in an electric kiln. All of their artwork is hand thrown, sculpted and glazed individually.
“Each of us likes different parts of the clay process,” said Gean, 48. “Bill is an excellent
thrower and a kiln master, and I enjoy meticulous decorations and playing with
glazes.” Craftsmanship and esthetics are always top priorities in their artwork.
Bill said, “Inspiration can come from a variety of sources, but mostly it comes from nature, the feel of the clay, the history of the medium and looking at other artist’s work. Seeing another artist’s work excites me and makes me want to create more of my own work.”
For Gean, inspiration can be found in “nature, travel, and everyday life experiences. For instance, I had a chance to enjoy lots of Greek art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City this summer, and I tried to capture it through some pieces after the trip.”
Each year they try to participate in a few select art festivals, such as St. James Court Art Fair, Penrod, Waterside, Indiana State Museum, Mellwood Art Fair in Louisville, Madison Chautauqua, Art in Speed and a few smaller local venues. Gean said they prefer to only participate in a small number of shows “because we like to take time to make individual pieces instead of trying to produce as many as we can.”

Gean said, “We love Madison. It’s a very charming small river town with a wonderful Clifty Falls State Park, especially in the fall. Chautauqua is a great art festival that gives such an array of different creations.”

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