Warmth emanates from David and Jeanne Aurelius. Soft light and fresh air fills their studio and gallery and makes customers feel right at home. As part of their daily routine, they wake early in the morning and drink coffee out of one of their handmade mugs.
Next, they walk their black lab a couple of miles down the road at the Ellison Bluff County Park. Sometimes they get out there in time for sunrise. Always, they give their ideas time to stir and surface while they walk through the woods on a winding dirt path, exploring and reveling in the many varieties of trees and flowers. They delight in the ever-changing scenery, the mad rush of summertime and the solace of winter.
“Just looking at the leaf forms, patterns and shapes…” Jeanne says. “The ideas! There’s not enough time in the day.”
For Jeanne and David, a productive workday consists of a balance between making art and selling art. They rise early and throw, decorate a piece with intricate patterns and designs, glaze, paint and fire…and all this before they even open the gallery.
“We’re producing probably even more in the summertime, but we’ve had the winter to sit down, digest, and think, ‘How is next season’s work going to be different?’ We change the variation on a theme or shape, go back to something old or try something new,” Jeanne says.
Location plays an important role in their work and their inspiration. “For both of us, Door County is just as beautiful as it always has been. Think of the places you only go once in a while, like Cave Point. Just go to the water to be inspired,” David says.
Their studio, located just south of Ellison Bay, opened in the spring of 1976. Inside, one finds all manner of projects in various stages of completion. “We opened a couple days before Memorial Day. We bought the place, with the two buildings, put up our sign, sat and looked out the window and hoped and prayed someone would come,” Jeanne says.
Think Field of Dreams and the mantra, “If you build it, they will come.” They did come: slowly driving up the Door Peninsula to Clay Bay Pottery.
“They’re very good potters, very creative. We’ve been friends for nearly 25 years, so we know them well. I think they’re a very credible artistic couple, and a great talent added to what we have up here in Door County,” says John Maring, long-time friend and patron of the Aureliuses’ work
Nancy Davis, another patron of Clay Bay Pottery since early times, says, “They have a great variety of sizes and shapes. And highly usable! I have them at two houses, and I use them all the time.”
There are plenty of choices at Clay Bay Pottery: lady vases, lamps, coffee mugs, bowls and platters. All items add a personal touch to any home. Other artists represented in the gallery offer still more options: photographs, brightly colored paintings, and jewelry.
“They make every day a special occasion,” David says. “It shows human ingenuity in a world that’s mass produced, pumped out, and glitzy, where everyone’s got to have the latest toy. But we’re just making everyday ware. ”
Jeanne and David met at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where they learned Marguerite Wildenhain’s (master potter of the Bauhaus School of Design) technique of pottery. From there, they applied and were accepted to attend a summer workshop with Wildenhain herself at Pond Farm in Guerneville, California. This proved to be such an inspirational and unique opportunity to pursue their craft and apprentice with the master that they returned four more times.
“It was fun to be learning and struggling with everyone else,” David says. “I think of it as my graduate school.”
Jeanne and David also teach classes and participate in shows at the Peninsula School of Art. Their work will be featured among many other prominent Door County artists in the October exhibit, “Norse Mythology, the Muse.” The Aureliuses also participated in the “Daybreak” exhibit at Edgewood Orchard Galleries.
They have, however, performed some of their most outstanding and influential work in the community alongside Wisconsin schools. Together with students, parents, faculty and staff, the Aureliuses have created 19 murals at various schools, and one at Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church.
“Murals are great because you’re all working toward one goal. The community members are volunteering their own time to help. They become addicted to the project, and they want to see it finish,” David says.
In the beginning, the idea of creating a 14 or 16-foot mural seems impossible to students. With a little faith and a lot of hard work, it all comes together. Their largest mural, at Lake Bluff School in Shorewood, Wisconsin, with the help of some 650 students, was 22 feet long.
Jeanne says, “When we’re at the schools we are really asking a lot of the students. Having them think of a theme that the schools decide upon, and create images from their mind’s eye about the theme on the spot; it’s just phenomenal how creative they are – and diverse.” Through these endeavors, the Aureliuses have been able to successfully incorporate art outreach into their lives.
In addition to the work found in the Clay Bay Pottery showroom, special orders can be placed for tiles for cabinet tops, wine racks, kitchen or bathroom back splashes, or home murals. Nancy Davis, who occasionally places special orders with the Aureliuses, says that she was very excited to see David’s innovative work with stencils, a technique he learned while studying at Pond Farm with Marguerite Wildenhain. Davis is particularly fond of David’s bird designs, though he does a variety of beautiful patterns, trees, and abstract decorations. Davis says, “I ordered a casserole dish and without my ever saying anything he put the birds on the inside. It was lovely.”
The Aureliuses just returned from visiting their daughter in China. During the course of their trip, they spent a fair amount of time being inspired by art from another culture. They’ve also spent time in Mexico and parts of Europe, and everywhere they go, they seek out native artwork.
“Even if they don’t speak our language, they understand that we appreciate their work and creativity. There are so many people out there in the world, doing and creating! Sometimes it seems overwhelming. Then I remember that we give some kind of joy to the everyday person drinking out of a mug, or using a plate or a bowl,” Jeanne says.
For now, they plan to let all the new images from their trip slowly infuse their work and follow where the inspiration leads. They know their materials well, and David and Jeanne prepared to learn from and go beyond what they have done in the past with innovative new designs and shapes. According the Aureliuses, it’s an exciting struggle.
“This is our life, and we really love it. Luckily people come and buy our work,” David says. “We satisfy people’s spirits and their souls.”