The Clay Man
Curt Stevens knows how to throw down
September 14, 2006
The real action is in Curt Stevens' garage. Inside is a huge table with freshly made ceramic bowls, rubber cabinets lined with finished and/or drying pieces, boxes of Scotch brand bubble wrap, stacks of rubber crates filled with finished, priced and wrapped pieces for shows and approximately a half ton of clay. Two wheels face each other low to the ground and there is a television with small white spatters.
"I always have the TV going when I'm working in here," says Stevens.
I sit down at one of the wheels and Stevens helps me throw my first piece of clay. He sits in a chair close to mine, talking me through the process. I start off trying to make a bowl, but the end result looks more like an ashtray. And he made it look so easy when I'd watched him earlier.
"The instructor should make it look easy," he says with a chuckle. "You should be worried if your instructor looks like they're having a tough time."
There's no question Stevens knows what he's doing. You can find his pots, mugs and dishes—all carrying the "Curt Maui" signature on the bottom—at several local galleries. You can sometimes spot Stevens under the Banyan Tree in Lahaina on the weekend or teaching a pottery class for children at the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) through Baldwin High.
Curt Stevens began doing ceramics in high school. It amazed him that, though not much else interested him, this did. After graduation, he went to Columbia College, a private art school in Chicago before taking, as he put it, "Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale for eight years."
Attempts to find the perfect warm climate led Stevens to Honolulu for five years, then to Maui in 1995. It was a 13-year lapse in which he wasn't doing any ceramic work.
But once settled here, Stevens signed up for a pottery class at Maui Community College and the passion was re-ignited. Soon it became common for him to ride his motorcycle from South Maui to MCC cradling his helmet in his lap, which was filled with his latest works.
The instructor for his first class at MCC, Jennifer Owen, suggested that he check out Hui No`eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao. He took her suggestion and quickly found he was spending a lot more time creating.
Stevens, his family and his cats live in a modest home near the Wailea fire station. When Curt moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Honolulu, one of his sisters followed. Then, when he hopped islands to Maui, she again followed. Later, his mom and other sister found their way here as well.
His mother is a painter. She and Curt are trying to talk his sister into fusing glass. And, of course, Curt is the clay man. The house is divided up so that everyone has his or her own unit.
Walking over to the lanai, with a view of the ocean over the fence, Stevens shows me five ceramic wheels huddled together. Near the five wheels are two rubber cabinets, which house a few imperfect pieces he sells at dirt-cheap prices.
This is where he holds workshops. Normally they only run from January to April because of the summer heat. But this year Stevens is considering doing some short workshops in the winter to teach some crafty gift making.
Back in the garage, I watch Stevens at work. He takes a seat at the wheel facing the television. There is a bowl of water behind the wheel and to the right. On his left is another stool with a bucket for extra clay parts that come off during the creation process.
Next to the stool, on the floor is a bag of clay. He's already divided it into smaller, workable balls. I watch intently as Stevens grabs one of the softball sized gray spheres and forms it into an egg shape.
Then he finds the center of the bat—the wooden plate that you put on the wheel as your workspace—and slams the clay down on it. Using a foot pedal, he gets the wheel slowly spinning and pats the clay into a cone shape. With the wheel spinning faster and faster, he uses a sponge to wet his hands andclay. Within minutes, Stevens has centered, pushed, pulled and shaped his clay into a perfect bowl.
During my second try at the wheel, we chat about society, politics and why I have a hangover. But once again, his finished product is a perfect bowl and mine is another ashtray-esque semblance of a bowl. He's undeterred.
"Ready to do another one?" he asks, somewhat optimistically. "Do you have the time?"
"Of course," I say. "I mean, uh, if you don't mind."
On my third go-around, I actually make a bowl. It's small, but it's definitely a bowl.
Curt Stevens can be reached at 205-CURT. His works are currently on display and available for purchase at Kuakini Gallery (Kahakuloa), Garden Gallery (at the Botanical Gardens half way to Hana), Maui Hands (Paia, Makawao, Lahaina, Ka`anapali), and under the Banyan tree on Sat. and Sun. MTW
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