Meet the Maker: Small Batch Pottery produced by Ben Fiess

BY Taylor Rebhan

Read more about Ben Fiess’s creative process below, and don’t forget to read about his time as a farmhand before he moved to his current studio in Minneapolis. 

View Ben’s Inesse Ceramic Squat Jar on our site, here.


Ben Fiess.

The color of your glazes are stunning. How did you become interested in ceramic chemistry? And how often do you come up with new colors?

My first interaction with clay was when I was 21 years old. I had been studying graphic design and needed to take a ceramics class to fulfill the degree requirements. It was an eye-opening experience that really captured my interest. There is very much a sense of do-it-yourself in ceramic art and handmade pottery. The materials we work with are mined from various regions and much like baking, combining different proportions of materials leads to a variety of results. When I was introduced to ceramic arts I learned by reading books of clay and glaze recipes, trying them, and tweaking them to achieve new surfaces and colors. It requires a lot of testing but the variety of results is nearly unlimited.

The database came about as a solution to organize my recipes as well as calculate a rough chemical analysis of the recipe. Working directly with the raw materials allows a lot of flexibility in the results and working in a very small production scale as I am, there is a great deal of opportunity work with a variety of colors/surfaces and to change them frequently. I have a good sized glaze library that I refer to from time to time, and I try to investigate new glazes while I produce work. When I was just starting out in school, an older student recommended always firing some glaze tests in every kiln load and I think it is important to do that.


A glimpse into Ben’s studio — a view of his pottery wheel and tools he uses on a regular basis.

How did you choose the colors for the Inesse Ceramic Squat Jar

I worked with Shinola to develop this specific colorway. We wanted bright, soft colors that would fit a Valentine’s Day theme. I like to use oranges and pinks in my work and I’m glad these pieces incorporate them. The brightly colored interior is a new visual cue for me and I’m happy with how it turned out. There is color all over these pieces and I really love that.


Bright glaze samples are scattered throughout Ben’s studio.

You worked as part-time farmhand on the farm where your old studio was, do you still do that?

I’m no longer working on the farm outside the Twin Cities. This past year I moved my studio practice to Minneapolis. Prior to that I had been living and working on a friends’ farm where I was able to keep my ceramic studio. My relationship with the farm started after I finished graduate school. I did not have a job lined up so I moved to the small farm where my friend’s parents had just taken over residence. It hadn’t been used in many years and was in need of a lot of attention. The relationship was mutually beneficial – I had ample space to work on ceramics and I could help out with chores. It isn’t a public place, but the owners have hosted several artists and writers throughout the past three years, providing a place to practice their craft and provide some help on the farm.

I try to visit when I have time. The experience really gave me a lot of appreciation for farmers and the community of neighbors. Everyone helps everyone because everyone eventually needs help themselves. 


Ben Fiess’ Inesse Ceramic Squat Jar.

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