Ben Owen III Biography
Young Ben Owen
Ben Owen III (b. 1968) is an American studio potter who grew up around clay. He spent many afternoons with his grandfather, Ben Sr., and his grandmother, Lucille. When “Little Ben” turned eight years old and was tall enough to work at the pottery wheel, Ben Sr. began to share his passion for clay with his grandson. Every day after school, Ben and his grandfather visited the family pottery and young Ben would try his hand at making a pot on the wheel. Each day offered a different lesson in clay and deepened the bond between grandfather and grandson. Ben’s natural talent and unusual level of interest led to an apprenticeship with his grandfather and father by age 13. Through high school, he carefully studied the shapes, glazes, and traditions of the Owen aesthetic and learned to appreciate the history and legacy of generations of craft.
The Owen home is located next door to the museum and now houses its fourth generation of Owens. Through the years, the home has been filled many times over with the art of generations of potters who’ve inhabited this house. Some treasured pots are in the pottery today, pots that young Ben felt challenged to recreate in the likeness of his forefathers’ work.
East Carolina University
After working with his grandfather and finishing high school, Ben III received an assistantship in 1987 to teach pottery while studying business at Pfeiffer University. Two years later Ben III continued his interest in the arts by attending East Carolina University. During college, Ben’s interest in form, design, and color piqued; and he began to forge his own unique path in clay. Through technical exploration and academic influences, Ben’s clay vernacular began to evolve. Research in form and color changed his evolving style as a potter. Studying painting, photography, and other areas of art and design also shaped the way Ben III worked with clay. In 1993 he graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ceramics. He then returned home to Seagrove, the place where his interest in clay originated.
Studying and Teaching Abroad
Many shapes and colors created by his grandfather continue to be produced in Ben’s studio. Asian ceramic traditions are a very strong influence on Ben’s work, as they were in his grandfather’s pottery. In the summer of 1995, Ben III traveled to Japan to be part of a ceramic workshop in Tokoname, Japan. There he was able to immerse himself in the culture that had inspired his grandfather. A culture expressing the importance of simplicity and tranquility in everyday life inspired Ben III to accept the challenge his now deceased grandfather had impressed upon him years before: “It’s easy to make things complicated, the challenge is to keep things simple.”
Ben III has taught workshops in pottery and kiln building at Penland School of Arts and Crafts in Penland, North Carolina, the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia, the John C. Campbell Folk Art School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and the Arrowmont School of Art in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. These workshops and conferences throughout the US along with a fellowship in Japan extended his continued research. He has said, “My approach to working in clay is inspired by many influences. Tradition and vision merge to forge the future, as I honor the historic Owen aesthetic while creating a unique body of work. Culture—blended with influences in nature—inspires my work. With studies in China, Japan, Australia and Europe, as well as in the university setting, I have continued to create a unique identity from culture and nature.”
On May 16, 1998, Ben married former Pfeiffer University classmate LoriAnn Little. LoriAnn has examples of her work available for sale in the shop from time to time. Ben and LoriAnn are proud parents of Avery, Juliana, and young Ben Owen IV (nicknamed Ivey). The family enjoys working together at the pottery, skiing, and visiting relatives at the Carolina coast.
Ben Owen Today
Ben’s recent passions have included glaze creation and experimentation. “For some pots, I use a four-chambered wood kiln with a firing process of up to four days. The prolonged exposure to ash and heat develops a wide range of color and texture on the clay. Other glaze techniques have evolved in a gas or electric kiln with a precision in temperature control to manipulate the finish. Some pieces are re-fired to develop layers and depth on the finish.” Ben’s works are included in numerous museum collections including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC; The International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, NM; The Schein-Joseph International Museum of Art in Alfred, NY; and, The Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, NC. Over the past decade, Ben has worked with designers and collectors to create custom works installed in a series of premier hotels and public spaces including the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tokyo, Japan; Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC; the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston, MA; and, Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, UT. Many of these vessels are much larger in scale and carefully designed to enhance the grandeur of a public space. He has received many awards and honors, including being named a North Carolina Living Treasure in 2004 and inducted into the North Caroliniana Society.