Studio Visit: Gery Henderson
Raku artist Gery Henderson crafts the singular in the collective
A visit to Gery Henderson's studio begins, appropriately, with a tour of the massive property on which his studio is sited. The raku artist and head of Rocket Skull Art Studio is a member of Eye of the Dog Art Center, located off a thatch of rural roads in San Marcos, Texas. As we tour the houses, houses-as-studios, classrooms, gallery, trailers, kiln-yards, and gathering spaces, friendly people greet and welcome us. A positive energy permeates the place, in ways that belie the hard work that goes on here. When we walk into EOTDAC owners Billy Ray and Beverly Mangham's house, they are in the process of building a large wall shelving unit which will carefully house their favorite clay artworks. Ray and Mangham's house is a sunnier version of the Winchester Mystery House, all woodshed ramble without the negative pathos. Passing by the outdoor "Raku palace" and at the end of our walking tour, we approach Henderson's studio, a former kiln-shed recently rebuilt as a stand-alone one-roomer. Amidst the equipment, rainbow tchotchkes, and comfy couches, I begin to understand the appeal of working in such a place.
Austin Chronicle: How many people are part of Eye of the Dog Art Center?
Gery Henderson: Well, it's flexible – some people have studios here, some people just come out and teach or participate in workshops. There are trailers out here that we let people stay in. Here I'm allowed to, and furthermore encouraged to, work as I please.
AC: The thing that strikes me about this working environment is that everyone's kind of in each other's spaces ... and strangely, that's fun!
GH: If there are workshops going on and I'm not participating in them, I can go in and absorb as much as I want. That's thrilling, and my education is ongoing. The one basic rule is: Be nice and get along. That kind of environment helps me create my best work. I get to play with no limitations. You know, sometimes it's incredibly quiet, and other times there's a lot of activity. This place vibrates at different levels, all the time. It's like art-crack! [Laughs]
AC: That seems to work for your studio, too! You have books in here, big pieces of technical equipment, comfy couches – so how do you conceptualize your studio as a space?
GH: It's a place where I can come and create for as long as I want. Because this is out in the country – and a 45-minute drive from my home in Austin – sometimes I come out here and spend the night. Everything here allows me to create at the speed I need. When I'm in high production, I'll stack tables so I have three or four levels of shelving to put stuff on – run things through the slab roller.
AC: A big part of making your studio here is bringing along big pieces of equipment like the slab roller. What are the mechanics of that? Do you respond differently to your equipment being in different places?
GH: There are levels of creativity that come with the tools. I can hand-build a skull, or I can use the extruder to extrude tubes of clay and manipulate that. I can roll out slabs by hand, but when I've got a slab roller it's much easier. And this slab roller has been resurrected: A friend of mine had a studio fire. The base is hermetically sealed, and each side holds 500 pounds of clay. If there weren't 1000 pounds of clay in this thing, it could be a mobile station. My brother-in-law in Hobbs, N.M., is an art car artist, and he wins every contest he participates in. I initially wanted him to paint it candy-apple red, but he said, "No. I'm going to marbleize it for you." And, you know, he was right!
Gery Henderson is the proud owner of two kilns. For more of his work, visit www.rocketskull.com.