WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTOS | KHNEMU STUDIO
As a child, Dawn Soltysiak watched her mother create beautiful ceramic pieces using the slipcast (pre-made molds) technique. During her youth, she loved working with her mom and learning from her expertise. Over time, Soltysiak found that she enjoyed working with clay the most, using her hands to mold and create her own unique works of art.
After many years spent in a “real job,” she found that shaping pottery was the outlet that kept her sane. Her husband said to her, “You smile more when you play with clay.” He also suggested that she start her own studio. “If you aren’t going to take the leap now, then when?” That was that. The Soltysiaks moved to a farm near Fennville and opened Khnemu Studio.
Through the years, Soltysiak had jumped at any opportunity to take a class or attend a workshop and expand her techniques and talents. Not long after opening, Khnemu began to grow, and soon Soltysiak invited other pottery artists to join her in displaying their works of art in the studio.
Soltysiak’s style of ceramic artwork is organic and earthy. She employs a wide variety of firing techniques — wood fired, stoneware, Raku, smoke fired, pit fired, salt and soda fired — and each creates a distinct look in the finished work.
October marks the 30th annual Blue Coast Artists Fall Tour of Studios, and Soltysiak is proud to be part of the event. There are eight working artist studios on the tour, each offering unique demonstrations. Soltysiak will be demonstrating the Raku firing technique.
Raku is a final glaze firing process where a bisque fired clay piece is put in a kiln and quickly brought to over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. When the desired temperature is achieved, the pot is removed from the kiln and immediately transferred to a combustible material, for example, straw. The piece of pottery is so hot that the straw will immediately combust. Then the container is covered and starved of oxygen. This process creates a reaction that affects the glaze and clay colors, and it often crackles the finish. Soltysiak also likes to use different metals in the glazes she mixes, as they create an unusual, stunning finish. She enjoys providing live demonstrations of the Raku process because she can fire a new item every 30 minutes, thereby keeping visitors interested.
An item unique to Soltysiak is her Tendril Pot. These pots range in size from 8 to 40 inches and come in every shape and color pattern imaginable. For the larger Tendril Pots, it takes 8-10 hours to create each section and days to work on the lines, details, and assembly. After two weeks of drying, the pot can be glazed and finally fired. Depending on the chosen firing process, it will take anywhere from 12 hours to several days to fire, and then it must cool for as many more. It is an arduous process with astonishing and delightful results.
As one of Soltysiak’s long-time customers puts it, “Go for the art, stay for the chickens and the sheepdogs, the warm and welcoming artists, and the amazing setting. I could spend all day here!”
6322 113th Avenue, Fennville MI 49408
(269) 686-6343 l KhnemuStudio.com