Tucked away southwest of Warsaw, just a few miles off of U.S. 30, sits a potter’s sanctuary. Not just any potter’s sanctuary, but one owned, worked, dirtied and loved by John Bauman.
Bauman, who owns, operates and is the sole potter of Bauman Stoneware, has been honing his craft for years, creating beautiful, functional art for the public. The passion he has for pottery is evident in the pieces he makes. Like any great artist, nothing comes easy. If art came easy, then it wouldn’t be art. It’d simply be product.
Apparently Bauman had had different plans for his life.
“I chose the college I attended for one reason: Sports. It wasn’t a particularly good motivation – and not just for the obvious reasons. I not only picked a college that held little probability of preparing me for life, educationally speaking, but despite my passion for sports, I was a mediocre athlete. And that’s putting it generously.
“But despite my questionable motivations, I ended up at Grace College at the exact point in time that offered me exposure to a very deep tradition of functional pottery. One year earlier, or one year later, and I likely would never have been introduced to pottery.”
As a college junior, Bauman was immediately captivated when he first saw a potter work at a wheel.
“It was something akin to magic to see something of value come into existence from nothing but skilled hands and a lump of clay,” he says. “It’s nice to reminisce about these things.”
Bauman rather eloquently describes the senses intermingling when one works with the earth’s very essence.
“After more than 30 years of being tangled in the midst of it, I remember that the choice of a craftsman’s life comes down to what attracted me to the arts and to the biz of making stuff and the biz of selling that stuff in the first place,” he says. “And it might have something to do with how hopelessly romantic I can be about the incredibly cool processes that many of us craftsmen go through in the production of our work – the smells of linseed oil and turpentine, just cut wood, OM4 ball clay (it smells like chocolate) – the visuals of incandescent lit, late-night workshops, floors littered with sawdust or clay shavings, kilns belching two-foot flames out of 10-foot chimneys, pouring molten metals, or glass pulled from glory holes, blistered or cracked and dry but skilled hands that can take materials of next to no value and turn them into something that could, generations from now, still be treasured.
“There’s a real brotherhood among craftsmen,” he continues, “and I’m proud that it’s a big part of my life.”
Finding one’s passion in life can be quite elusive. But for those who find it, it’s a beautiful thing. The true challenge is to take what you love and make a career out of it, or at the very least do it and manage to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Bauman has been able to find the balance between art and commerce.
“As I hinted, pottery wasn’t even a career choice. It was something I stumbled upon by accident. But I took to it right away. I really enjoyed the rewarding creative process. But though my passion for pottery was a big factor in my pursuing pottery as a career, the decision was at least in equal part due to what I couldn’t do: type.”
A lover of writing and literature, were it not for his inability to type, Bauman would never have become a potter.
“I quite probably would have pursued something along those lines [writing or English] if I hadn’t been smacked in the face with the cold, hard reality that I wasn’t going to go on to graduate school without the ability to type.”
He would have been equally happy making a career out of one of his other passions – music (more on that later) or sports – if he thought he could make a living at it. But it was his “new-found passion for clay” that seemed the most likely route to earning a living.
“Between ‘making money’ and ‘something I love to do,’ I’d have to say it’s the latter that drove me into the career,” he says. “Making money has often been mostly about survival.”
What’s a day like for a potter?
“I was once asked how many hours of the day I spend in my pottery studio. I answered, ‘All of them,’ and I was only half kidding,” he says.
“I usually start the day finishing the pots I started the day before. I like this kind of start to the day because first thing in the morning I’m not thrilled about sticking my hands in throwing water and wet clay.”
After working a few hours, Bauman likes to take a break and run four or five miles on Winona Lake’s bike trails with his wife, Dar, and two Alaskan malamutes.
“The break is an important part of my life as well as my physical and mental health,” he says. “When I get back from the trails I get started on new pots. I try to make between 10 [large] and 30 [medium] pots a day. Some of the pottery I make is more involved in the finishing than in the throwing, so quite often what I throw in one day requires a day or two to finish.”
For Bauman, business is personal.
“I have no employees,” he says. “Every piece of pottery is made by hand by me and signed with my name. This kind of business life has taught me much – influenced how I view economics. It has illustrated for me, in a concrete way, the notion of a value-added, production-based economy. What enters my shop with very little value exits my shop exponentially more valuable by virtue of the use of my hands, mind and time.
“I spend very long hours in the shop, but working for myself has its perks. I keep a guitar and a mandolin in the shop, and I take frequent breaks to play them.”
Music is a passion for Bauman as well. He was influenced by his parents’ jazz and big band records when he was younger. In the 70s it was singer-songwriters, and then musicians such as John Hartford, Norman Blake and Tony Rice. He even gets together with some musicians for a little break from throwing on the wheel.
“And whenever it’s possible, I go up to Goshen and play old-timey music with a group of folks who get together a few times a month,” he adds.
Finding that a lot of the music he loved was much more technically advanced than his own abilities, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“Much of that music was beyond my abilities, but when I turned 40 I decided to take upon myself the discipline to actually learn how to play that way – to flatpick. I’ll never be as comfortable as a flatpicker as I am a fingerpicker, but learning to play with others in an ensemble has been worth any effort, and the additional musical skills allowed me to go full circle and teach myself to play many of those jazz/American songbook standards I first filled my musical consciousness from my parent’s record collection.”
What’s the future hold for John Bauman and Bauman Stoneware? “I used to joke that I retired when I turned 20 [when I started my pottery]. To some extent, that’s always been true,” he says.
“I already live the dream most men have for when they finally shed themselves of the business, work-a-day world. Now that I’m facing the reality of that meant-as-humorous statement, I admit it’s daunting. There’s a security in my self-employment – I won’t ever fire me – but the economy has made selling unnecessary art to the middle class a much harder endeavor than it was 10-20 years ago. After 35 years of this, I have to face the reality that I may not survive financially. That was an eventuality I never foresaw.
“But should I find more new tricks to surviving this business world in a weak and getting-weaker economy, I have no plans of giving it up. Why would I? I love making pottery and I see nothing about aging that would diminish that enjoyment.”
Visit Bauman Stoneware online at www.baumanstoneware.com.
by John Hubner
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102