Dale Donovan Dale is at Studio #11 during the 2023 POST tour.
The following information was conducted in a recent video interview by Ashley McNutt-Kaestner, a senior at Philomath High School.
Tell me about your journey to becoming an artist. It probably all started back in high school. I didn’t take any art classes but had a lot of friends that were artists. I really became interested in the arts in the air force, actually. I went in when I was 17, and it was probably the happiest day of my father’s life. As he was dropping me off at the train station, he beamed and told me he would see me in four years. So off I go, newly graduated from Corvallis High School. My home base was in Topeka, Kansas and the Topeka County Library had a fine arts section. This was in 1961, and you could actually check out paintings and sculptures. I would have all these reproductions of Van Gogh, Picasso and all these wonderful artworks. I took my very first pottery class while I was in the military. Then I really started travelling. I went to 17 countries and lived all over the world. In Turkey was where I got my first real introduction to ceramics. I would go to all these ruins, and find some pottery pieces. Occasionally I would find a whole piece and that was quite the find. It was just so interesting to see these different kinds of civilizations and the remains of them. I then started taking ceramic classes at the university and after I got out of the military in 1965, I came back to Oregon State and became an art major with a concentration in ceramics. I graduated in 1969 and I moved back to the old family farm. By this time my parents had moved back to town so they were just renting the old house. I came out, set up my studio, and started producing. Basically my love has always been to work with clay, work with my hands, and produce beautiful things that people can use in their everyday lives.
When someone sees your art, what would you like him or her to experience? I’d like them to pick the piece up, feel it. Look at it. And then I like the idea that people can use my work in their everyday lives. I like the idea of people drinking out of my mugs, eating breakfast out of a bowl I made. Just using it and making it something that becomes a part of your daily life. Not something that is just looked at, or hung up on a wall.
Tell me about me about becoming inspired to do a particular piece of work. To start off, I work mainly with porcelain. But when I was a student, I mainly started off with stoneware and moved to porcelain. Then I did a year of graduate work with Ray Grimm at Portland State University and that’s when I got interested in to the glaze I use now. I’ve been working with it since 1973. You have to get the thickness and temperatures just right. It’s been a challenge to get the thickness just right, but I’ve produced some very lovely glaze.
What is the meaning behind your art? Again I’ll go back to that idea of functionality, and I like to make things that are beautiful. But I also like to make things that you can use.
Why do you continue working as an artist? There’s a lot to explore. There’s a particular thing about clay and glazes that there’s a never ending source of information that you gain. The more you work in it the more you realize that you have a lot more to learn. It’s kind of never ending. I find it challenging and I find it enjoyable. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands. It’s what I love to do. I plan to do this until these hands can no longer turn a part on a wheel.
How has art shaped and changed your life? Well it’s changed my life because I’ve found something in my life that really has meaning to me. I have yet to meet a potter that I don’t respect, that I do respect I should say. They are people of the Earth, there’s something very earthbound when you work with clay. I’ve met many potters over the years and I enjoy chatting with people that have the same level of passion that I have.
How do you get through times when your piece just doesn’t quite fit together? That happens a lot. My glaze has a very high loss rate, it can be very frustrating. But like in life when something is difficult and you just keep pushing it can turn out well.
Tell me about where you make your art and the mental process of making it. I make it basically here in my own studio. I enjoy living on the same property with my studio so I can come down with a bag of clay, wedge it on the table and sit down at the potter’s wheel. I find it very soothing, very relaxing. It’s something that has kind of a magical quality to it. I love working in my studio especially when it’s raining. Fortunately in Oregon that happens very often. I enjoy a nice rainy day working in my studio.
What are some key components needed to make successful artwork? It takes persistence and a good eye. Looking at a lot of artwork, especially pottery, you’ll see that by my work I use everyday. I drink my coffee out of my pottery. But I also have many other potters’ works in my home that we use on a daily basis. I try to rotate it all around.
Get a jump on your holiday shopping By Rachel Beck, Gazette-Times, November 15, 2009 If Santa operated out of Benton County, his workshop would probably resemble Dale Donovan’s. Donovan, 66, is a ceramics artist and one of the eight stops on this year’s Philomath Open Studios Art Tour & Sale.
Donovan is a jack-of-all-trades. He and his wife, Peggy, also operate a Christmas tree farm on their property, rent guest houses and host 40 to 60 weddings a year, which Donovan officiates, at their property west of Southwest 53rd Street.
This time of year, the different activities dovetail nicely. “We ship wreaths out all the time, and we’re also shipping out ceramics all the time,” Donovan said. As a medium, ceramics plays into his varied interests. “There’s just a huge amount of process and things to experiment with,” he said. “You can spend a lifetime working with just one particular glaze and not fully understand all its ramifications.”
Many of Donovan’s pieces have a subtle sparkle from his crystalline glaze. “It’s kind of a specialty thing I’ve been doing since back in the mid-’70s,” he said. Sunday, visitors to Donovan’s studio got to take a close-up look at the unusual and eye-catching finishes. “I spent about three months working on new glazes, and this is kind of a cumulation of those glazes,” he said as he looked over the bowls, cups and vases on display for the occasion.
Donovan has been involved with Philomath Open Studios since its inception seven years ago. The event was originally imagined as a time for people to watch the artists work, but that hindered sales and interaction. “Trying to sit here and have clay all over your hands and then get up and make change ... it really doesn’t work,” Donovan said.
Instead, the artists greet and mingle with visitors. Karen Richie and Wendy Kincade of Philomath were experienced tour-goers. “We like to do the open studios,” Richie said. She and Kincade decided to visit all of the stops this year. They described themselves as “dormant art collectors,” who might lack the money to buy what they want but enjoy looking.
One of Donovan’s pieces they particularly admired was a mug that had enough room between the vessel and the handle to wrap both hands around — perfect for drinking hot chocolate, they declared. Perhaps Santa — who is likely already operating at full capacity — should take note.