The gallery walls are filled with Maiers creations, ranging from Oriental teapots to vases, cups, dishware and stoneware pots, all imbued with a dreamy sense of style and color. Its clear at a glance that Maier, 29, has a singular vision that brings out the best of what clay has to offer, draped in a sublime range of glazes and colors.
Maiers celebration of the earth happened by chance. After graduating from Traverse City Central High School in 1996, he attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, completing a degree in political science with a minor in economics.
But after graduation, a sense that something was missing in his life led him to take a class in ceramics with instructor Carl Spork at Northwestern Michigan College.
I was at a different point in my life and ceramics was an outlet that helped me emerge from a difficult space, he recalls. It was very therapeutic working with clay, and after the therapy, it turned into a career.
He attended another ceramics course at Michigan State University, and then spent three seasons at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado. I was there three years in a row, going back and forth, creating work there and selling it back home, he says.
Five years ago, Maier launched his first gallery, also in Lelands. He opened his current gallery in the summer of 2004. The gallery features a handsome facade in dark tones that reflect the contemporary style of his ceramics.
As for his studio, thats located at the top of Crain Hill in Leelanau County. Here, Maier creates soda-fired stoneware, using a technique called vapor firing.
Vapor firing involves spraying ceramics with a solution of soda ash and water while the work is being fired in a gas kiln. Basically, youre spraying salt water on the ceramics, which washes out the glazes, Maier says. The result is a unique pattern on every piece of stoneware.
Maier also works with the Japanese woodfire method, which involves firing raw clay to give it a crusty, antique look thats aesthetically pleasing. The method was developed 300-500 years ago, but produces a timeless quality that resonates from medieval Japan to the art lovers of today. Youre not trying to be so tight and perfect with this method, Maier says. Youre telling the clay to breathe a little more.
So, hows business in Lelands art-friendly community?
Each summer it gets a little bit better, Maier says. Im doing wedding and shower gifts along with commission work on things like dinner sets. People come in with ideas and we work on creating what they want.
Maier also keeps prices down so that theres something for every budget. A teacup, for instance, might run $10, with prices rising to a stoneware centerpiece going for $500. I want someone to be able to walk in and find something they like for $9 or $12. I try to keep prices reasonable.
Benjamin Maier Ceramics is located at 102 North Main, Leland, with hours from 11-5 Monday through Saturday, and 11-4 on Sunday. Ph: 231-590-1084.