Happy Glaze

At the end of a winding, paved driveway in a picturesque McCutchanville, Ind., neighborhood sits the enchanting home pottery studio of North Carolina native Denise Peyronnin, who moved to Evansville in 1994 to become the executive director of YMCA Camp Carson — a position she held for eight years. The studio is surrounded by a lush landscape, including trees and potted plants, and a nearby black iron bench and large hammock offer ideal spots for gathering inspiration. Each week, Peyronnin spends about 30 hours creating, carving, texturing, and glazing pottery pieces — flowerpots and bowls, plates, cups, and saucers — that she hopes will “evoke a sense of nature or a memory.”

Peyronnin recalls dabbling in ceramics and pottery until four years ago when she took her first ceramics class at the University of Southern Indiana, under the direction of art professor Lenny Dowhie. She also credits her longtime friend and figurative artist, Deborah Ball, for the motivation to further develop her skills. “I just needed to take the next step to see if I really wanted to pursue it before financially investing resources for a studio,” Peyronnin says.
In September 2011, with help from her husband, Drew, and local contractors, Peyronnin transformed their 9-year-old woodshop into a potter’s retreat. The 16-by-32 foot studio now features concrete slab working tables, a pottery wheel, an electric kiln, and other tools such as a pug mill, test kiln, slab roller, and clay extruder. Yet, in order to make her pieces “come to life,” she says, Peyronnin utilizes her outdoor fast-fire raku kiln, a Japanese tool, to produce one-of-a-kind glazes, such as horsehair layers (horse hair is used for decoration and leaves an imprint in the pottery when fired at 1600 degrees), which add greater dimension.

Three times a week, Peyronnin shares the studio with Ball, who has a master’s degree in ceramics from Indiana State University and instructs a visual arts course at USI. Ball specializes in hand-building and abstract work whereas Peyronnin mostly throws (uses the wheel). With either method, the duo is inspired by their natural surroundings, which heavily influence their work. “I like to walk around her flower beds and make sketches,” says Ball. “So a lot of those textures and colors translate to my platters.”

Inside the studio’s grand walnut doors is even more stimulation. Light from the east windows spills into the space, and fresh flower arrangements in ceramic pots bring some of the surrounding gardens to the working tables and shelves. Bella, Peyronnin’s black European lab, often lies at her feet as she pumps the pottery wheel. “If I’m having a tough day,” she says, “I come in here and I just touch the clay, hold the clay, or start creating something. All of a sudden, hours have passed, and I feel like I leave the pressure of everything else outside.”

Constructing a studio from scratch or renovating an existing space isn’t easy, admits Peyronnin. In fact, she advises studying under someone for nearly a year, attending classes, taking lots of notes, and using Pinterest for organizing thoughts and ideas. “Figure out what materials, supplies, or equipment you truly need in your room,” she says, “and keep notes about how you could change the space without them.”

Once a concrete plan is underway, Peyronnin emphasizes the importance of patience and refusing to allow age to hinder a dream. “If the art and creativity are inside you, trust yourself and jump in,” she says. “It has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.”

Contact Denise Peyronnin at denise@bellapots.com for more information, commission requests, or a studio tour. Her work is on display at Evansville Commerce Bank and for sale at her studio.

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