On a sunny Tahoe morning, I’m taking a sip of chai out of a perfectly sized, lightly glazed tea bowl with cool colors, swirls and patterns on it. A dimple in the side of the mug makes it easy to hold.
Truckee resident Brad Henry has been creating pottery for more than 20 years and makes handcrafted, beautiful functional art. He started when he was in college, close to earning a four-year degree in computer science when he took a pottery class and found that he had a knack for it. After spending hours of writing code, nothing would happen, whereas with pottery he got something immediately tangible.
“Pottery takes egocentricity out of the art. I love when it all works in harmony and comes out really nice.”– Brad Henry
His pottery instructor needed an assistant and Henry needed a job, so he worked with his instructor and got on the pottery wheel.
“From the very first ball of clay I could shape and create something; it was weird,” he says. In fact, he picked it up so fast that he changed his major to art and never looked back.
“It’s like drinking Folgers your whole life and then move to Coffeebar. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, what have I been missing?’ ”
In the 1990s, Henry worked an apprenticeship in Wisconsin, did some commercial pottery work in Minnesota and then moved to Bend, Ore., to work with one of his friends at his studio. On a weekend trip to Tahoe in 2010, Henry met his soon-to-be-wife and was hooked.
He kept a pottery studio over on West River Street for a year and a half before finding a house with enough land for an 800-square-foot studio in Glenshire.
“I’ve had big spaces and really small spaces and this is a good size for one person. I’m using all of it all the time,” Henry says.
Every single inch of space is used for glazing, working or storing pieces in progress. In another room, a huge kiln takes up half the space, which can hold probably up to 100 pieces.
He also has two electric kilns for the first firing to get the clay the right porousness before the pottery is glazed. In one of them, sits several red-clay plates that Henry is working on for the Truckee Brewing Company.
He makes all kinds of goods from handcrafted pumpers, salt and pepper shakers, tea mugs, vases, bowls, olive oil holders — pretty much whatever people want. His favorite is to create functional pots for everyday use that reflect the habits and rituals of the area of where one lives — like my tea bowl.
“One person wanted a sponge holder to put next to their sink and I was thinking, ‘Who would ever want that?’ and then I made a bunch of them and people were buying them. Then I made one for myself and thought, ‘How did I never have this before? It looks nice and it’s functional,’ ” he says.
One thing that makes Henry’s pottery stand out is intricate swirls and patterns imprinted into his work, which he started experimenting with when one of his friends requested a piece with an octopus on it.
“So, I started trying it. I dipped it in glaze, did a pattern in liquid wax and it repelled the glaze,” Henry says of how he gets the pattern to stick. “I remember in the few times I tried pottery, the glazes always looked different going into the kiln than they did when they came out. I like that about pottery, that the glazes look completely different after firing. You have your clay and glaze’s input, you have your input and the firing has its input; the three elements together all determine how the pottery is going to come out. I can’t really say, ‘Look what I made.’ It’s more ‘Look what happened.’ Pottery takes egocentricity out of the art. I love when it all works in harmony and comes out really nice.”