For Halstead artist Wendell Donaldson, art is a passion that evolved over time. Starting at an early age, a simple choice in college kept him on that path and led to 30 years of work in ceramics (mainly Raku pottery).
"I got involved in high school. I was probably a sophomore, junior in high school and got involved in throwing. I got to college and had some electives to take," Donaldson said of his continued work in ceramics. "Of course, I was an athlete; some of the teachers thought I was — being the athlete — looking for an (easy) class, but I really enjoyed it and got to be really good friends with the professor."
Donaldson will be one of the featured artists in Carriage Factory Art Gallery's latest exhibit, "Form of Five," which will have an opening reception with talks from the artists at 7 p.m. Sept. 28.
Keeping up his relationship with his professor and pottery after his time at Sterling College, Donaldson continued to experiment and hone his craft — focusing most of his time with Raku pottery.
While Donaldson said he does work with earthenware pottery from time to time, Raku has drawn most of his artistic interest over the years. One of the biggest differences is that Raku pottery is more porous and does not hold food or water, while the actually creation of each piece is fairly unique as well.
"It's a process in which you make the piece, whatever it is ... you take it out of a red-hot kiln and then you take it and set it into combustible materials and it catches fire. Then, you close off the oxygen to it and the reaction of the atmosphere, with the lack of oxygen and the glaze that you used, gives you the rich colors," Donaldson said. "It's a pretty neat deal."
Depending on the environment, the weather, the clay or glaze used, the resulting artwork is different every time, Donaldson noted.
Over the years, as Donaldson has gotten more involved in ceramics, he has continued to take more control of his work — mixing his own clay, his own glazes and building his own kiln to fire his pottery at his home in Halstead.
For his day job, Donaldson works as Recreation Director at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, a position he has held for 31 years. When he initially took the position, there was talk about his two worlds merging, with a proposal for him to teach a pottery class at the facility. That didn't pan out, but keeping busy in his home studio has proved to be a good fit — and a bit of an escape.
"I want to continue to do pottery because I like it, whether anybody buys it or not. It's one of those things that I'm gonna do no matter what," Donaldson said. "It's a relaxing part of life for me, considering I work at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. It's one of the things that (helps) keep my sanity."
Being a former athlete, oftentimes when Donaldson is at craft fairs, people who don't know him are surprised to find out he is the artist with works on display. What started as a side project in his time as a high school and college athlete has blossomed into something that he hopes to dedicate even more time to.
Recently, Donaldson's work was exhibited at One Door North Gallery in McPherson, while he can often be found selling his work at the Halstead Arts and Crafts Fair each year (mainly displaying his work in Kansas to date).
"It would be nice to do this in the retirement years and have something that you enjoy and actually be able to make a little money at it," Donaldson said. "I always think it's pretty much just for my pleasure, but there's other people who seem to like it."
Each piece, Donaldson said, takes about 20 minutes to shape — then it will spend multiple hours baking in the kiln. With room for multiple pieces in each of his kilns, he can do numerous works at a time. Part of the the enjoyment in the creative process comes from the mystery of not knowing what exactly the ceramics will come out looking like. Sometimes, he said, there will be pieces that break, but other times the final product will leave him "so ecstatic I can't hardly see straight."
Currently, Donaldson said he is honing his skill in making bigger pieces. He has also done some pieces recently (some of which will be featured at the Carriage Factory exhibit) with a white crackle glaze that he has been trying to perfect for many years. Chances are, though, his favorite pieces won't ever make it out of Halstead.
"My house is full of 'em. Here's the rule of thumb: If my wife loves it, it doesn't leave the house," Donaldson said. "So, you see the things that are out that I've sold and some of them that have been really nice, chances are good there's one 10 times better in my house just because my wife likes them."
Donaldson's work will be featured at Carriage Factory as part of the "Form of Five" exhibit through Nov. 15. For more information on the exhibit, visit carriagefactorygallery.com.