The Power of Community:
Ryan J. Greenheck Brings his Pottery Invitational to Pittsburgh
Fresh out of graduate school, with his MFA from SUNY Alfred, young potter Ryan J. Greenheck moved to Philadelphia in 2004, looking to set up a studio and get to work. He thought he might do some teaching in addition to his own creative work. He couldn’t imagine how his world would expand over the next fifteen years, on a path that introduced him to numerous artists, educators, and promoters – a community that he has been instrumental in forming and that has redefined his idea of what it means to be a practicing artist.
A man whose conversation vibrates with energy, Greenheck seems to have hit the ground running in 2004. He recalls, “Philadelphia is a city I always liked, so I decided to set up my studio and practice there.” He found part time work at The Ceramic Shop and when owner/founder Mark Leuders left his adjunct teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania, Greenheck stepped in and took the class. “This was a great experience for me,” he says, “because the students really kept me on my toes. These were smart Ivy League kids, and a couple of students even corrected my grammar! But it really challenged me to learn how to discuss concepts and be more succinct in my teaching.”
Greenheck’s affiliation with UPenn lasted eleven years, a stretch of time in which he maintained full-time work in his studio, a space he rented from a fellow potter. He developed his creative identity while interacting with the ceramic community in Philadelphia. He collaborated with other potters, organizing shows and sales. He says, “Each time I have done a sale, I have always had a partner – someone I looked up to and was glad to work with. I found that it was more successful if there was a community, rather than going on my own.” In 2007, several Philadelphia potters organized an initial meeting to discuss a local pottery tour. The idea lay dormant for several years until Greenheck rekindled the project in 2016. He collaborated with Michael Connelly of Bailey Street Arts Corridor and Sandi Pierantozzi and Neil Patterson of Neighborhood Potters, with all three studios hosting the event in 2017. The now-annual tour takes place the last weekend of each April. Sales are coordinated at multiple studios and an opening night reception is held at The Clay Studio on North Second Street.
In 2011, Greenheck had just purchased his own building in the Strawberry Mansions neighborhood in Philadelphia and was busy getting several pieces together for a Demarest Pottery show in New York when Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York/New Jersey area. Greenheck’s close friends Mark Shapiro and Matthew Metz also had pieces ready for the New York show. “I realized, I have this new space – why don’t we move the show here?” he recalls. “I pulled together five other artists who were friends and mentors, – my community,” he says. The show was a success. Greenheck repeated the show the next year. It has grown into the Annual Holiday Sale and is well-established as an anticipated event in the local community. Greenheck says, “Since I am now doing more exhibitions, I’m thinking of changing the name to the ‘Philadelphia Pottery Invitational.’”
Greenheck began to realize that his life was diverting into two separate paths, each with its own identity. He explains, “I have been part of so many shows, I have picked the brains of so many people, that I am really a ‘we.’ I am the ceramic community, in a sense, and this identity is another creative outlet for me. And then there is the ‘I,’ the artist who is alone in the studio with his work.” Greenheck feels that the “we” aspect of the artist is crucial to the creative experience. “I think studio sales are the way to go, especially now with social media,” he says. “The artist is the resource and always has been. We don’t need institutions and galleries taking from the artist.” He encourages artists to come together as a community through group shows, sales, and studio tours.
Greenheck’s “we” identity has grown organically, expanding in ever-widening circles. In 2016, friend Lois Aronow from Brooklyn contacted him and asked for help in setting up a sale similar to the Philly Holiday Sale. Greenheck helped Aronow coordinated the logistics for a show in her studio space in the old American Can Factory, a curated space for working artists in Brooklyn. September 2019 will mark the third year for the Brooklyn Pottery Invitational.
When Standard Ceramic presented over a dozen artists and schools at its Pittsburgh facilities in conjunction with the 2018 NCECA conference, Greenheck sat down with Standard’s Jim Turnbull to discuss a Pittsburgh Pottery Invitational. Greenheck says, “I saw how great the space was and how much interest there was in the community and threw out the idea to Jim. He was quick to agree, and I am having a wonderful time setting it up.”
Greenheck has assembled an impressive group of local and national artists for the Pittsburgh show. He says he is creating a “designer” look for the show, which he explains as artists who have a distinct look or identity. “I want to expand the audience to people who aren’t necessarily ceramic artist,” he says, “to people who are interested in design.” The three-day event will feature eighteen artists in multiple galleries and spaces at the Standard property outside of Pittsburgh. Greenheck plans to pair groups of artists with similar work or technique to present short demonstrations several times throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. An opening reception is planned for Friday evening.
The young artist who arrived in Philadelphia in 2004 bear little resemblance to the entrepreneur who has blown up the concept of the solitary potter. Like his electrician father and his farmer grandfather, Greenheck found a way to expand his craft identity into a vital, creative business and life.
The Pittsburgh Pottery Invitational is scheduled for June 7, 8, and 9, 2019. Visit this site often for news about the participating artists. Or, follow PittsburghPotteryInvitational on Instagram. (https://www.instagram.com/pittsburghpotteryinvitational/)
Learn more about Ryan J. Greenheck at www.ryanjgreenheck.com.
Read about Greenheck’s work with Sandi Pierantozzi and the Philadelphia Pottery Tour at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/ceramics-monthly/ceramic-art-and-artists/ceramic-artists/building-momentum-urban-pottery-tour/#