Susan McHenry is a studio potter who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband, Mark Nepo, and their dog, Zuzu. She enjoys making functional pots for everyday use and believes pottery crafted by hand with thoughtfulness and care can elevate simple, everyday moments. Born and raised in upstate New York, Susan received her MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College in 1999. She teaches ceramics at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and is a regular contributor to Ceramics Monthly. Her work is represented in both national and regional galleries, including the Charlie Cummings Gallery in Gainesville, FL, and Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, MI.
I'm continually inspired by both the strength and vulnerability of clay, how it requires either a force or gentleness of hand at various stages. Due to chronic pain from a recent diagnosis of bone spurs in my shoulder, I have undergone a shift from working on the wheel to hand building. At first, this prospect of change felt daunting, but now it feels exciting to see my work shifting. New forms are making their way into my repertoire and some older forms are retiring. Interestingly, I’m feeling more engaged with these new processes of coil building, pinching, and utilizing custom templates for slab building. There’s an appealing immediacy and spontaneity when adding volume to soft slabs, and watching a pot take shape slowly as each coil is added, rather than throwing the form quickly on the wheel, is an invitation into patience. I find I’m taking more time to complete each piece, considering every aspect of form and surface more consciously.
As always, my goal with the forms I’m creating is to convey movement, generosity, and softness. Scalloped edges and undulating rims invite the eye to travel across each piece. I use a thin white slip (liquid clay) as the background for my surface decoration, then apply layers of colored slips portraying flowers and branches that wrap around the rims of bowls and feet of plates. At each step of the making process, I’m striving to make work that reflects a collaboration with the materials—allowing evidence of process such as a brush mark, fingerprint, or drip to become an active part of the piece. I love seeing the dark clay body peeking through the layers, the earthenware always having a voice in the final product.
I believe that pottery made by hand with thoughtfulness and care can elevate simple day-to-day moments we might otherwise take for granted, like sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or serving a meal to beloved friends. When interacting with my pots, you’ll find thoughtful considerations to form and surface—my fingerprint somewhere on the surface, the way I considered the lip on a mug or the comfort of a handle, the expressive quality of a brushstroke. Through such considerations, I hope my pottery will serve as an invitation to slow down, to drop into the present moment more fully.
Crafted by hand in my home studio in Kalamazoo, Michigan, my durable pots can stand up to daily use. Everything is food safe, lead-free, and microwave and dishwasher friendly.