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Reflecting on Sense of Place with Doug Casebeer

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Young people are malleable, but every so often they find their forte early on. As was the case with ceramicist Doug Casebeer, who has “been working in pots since ’76 — coming up on nearly 50 years.” 

Back then, Casebeer was attending a community college north of Kansas City. At the time, he envisioned going into design work, likely architecture, and was attending art classes to bring up his grade point average following a previous stint as an undergrad. The school’s curriculum compelled Casebeer to take ceramics. 

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“I touched it, and it touched me … I found the material I wanted to work with for the rest of my life,” Casebeer told The Sopris Sun. “I just felt really at home and comfortable when I was working with the material.” 

He quit his job as a graphic designer, enrolled in as many clay classes as he could and “that was really it. That was the beginning,” he shared. From there, Casebeer went on to finish his undergraduate degree at Wichita State University; then to New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University for graduate studies. 

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“After that I landed a job working for the U.N. [United Nations],” he continued — a seemingly surprising turn of events. But, in fact, Casebeer worked as a pottery consultant for the U.N. based in Kingston, Jamaica, for three years “teaching locals how to make pots with local materials.” 

Casebeer said he learned a lot about being human while living there, from respect to the realities of racism. In return, he still goes back to teach pottery in Kingston. He and his partner, David Pinto, have a studio there and continue to share the wonders of ceramics with locals. For more information about the studio, visit 

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After departing Kingston for the first time, he was hired by Brad Miller as the second full-time employee at the burgeoning Anderson Ranch Art Center. He worked there for 35 years. 

His technique and style haven’t changed a whole lot since his early years working with clay. “I’ve refined it, and I often feel that I’m not looking for really big changes in my work, just little ones. It keeps me interested,” he said. 

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Today Casebeer is teaching at the University of Oklahoma, helping young people discover their niche, much like he found his own. And, he continues to learn. For example, Casebeer has begun to incorporate little pieces of glass into his pottery — an experiment initially played out by one of his students. In the exhibition at the Clay Center, observers will notice fine pieces of opaque red glass embedded in grooved knobs atop the lid of a teapot or jar.

It’s not the only mixed material he’s used. Each of his teapots are equipped with an automotive hose as a handle, so it doesn’t break so easily. “My deal is if you buy a teapot and the handle wears out, you send it to me and I’ll put another one on,” he assured. 

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Sense of Place

Casebeer also makes impractical pieces (from a utilitarian standpoint), particularly sculptures, that tell a story. These works, as well as his practical pottery, are rooted in the composition of where he grew up. 

“Growing up on the plains of Kansas and Oklahoma, the biggest things I would see that was influencing my perception were the barns, silos and buildings on the prairie,” he said. “That became the way I thought about composing space.” He added that it wasn’t until many years later that he came to this realization.

Then, when he’d set the family table, he noticed that it mimicked the villages and towns on the plains back home. “The table is no different than the prairie, and my pots on the table are no different than the barns and the silos. When I put all of that together, I was able to relax and go, ‘I think I found my voice.’” 

He pointed to the grooves on a piece which, for him, were influenced by corrugated roofing; or how the texture another is derived from wheat or hay fields blowing in the wind. 

“I think that sense of place is really important,” concluded Casebeer. “As an artist it’s the one thing that distinguishes you from all other artists: who you are, where you’re from and how you were raised … As an artist it’s your job to honor that sense of place.” 

Don’t delay, Sense of Place will only remain on display through Aug. 12 at the Carbondale Clay Center. Visit for more information. 

Tags: #Anderson Ranch Art Center #Carbondale Clay Center #ceramics #Doug Casebeer #pottery #Sense of Place #University of Oklahoma
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