Braunschweig takes clay and turns it into art

Thursday, December 16, 2004

When Connie Braunschweig was a child, she played in the clay found in the bottom of the creek near the family farm. She and her siblings formed the clay into balls and after drying them in the sun, used them for marbles.

Today, she still enjoys playing with clay and creating original pieces that are both functional and decorative.

Connie and husband, Jerry became interested in becoming potters back in 1979, after he had spent a few years as a high school art teacher in Newell. They began their business, Braunschweig Pottery with Jerry peddling the potter's wheel and Connie making hand-built items. They worked side by side creating the artwork and selling it as fast as they could get it made. Three years ago Jerry decided to get back to teaching, leaving Connie with the option of continuing the business by herself or giving it up and finding a "real" job, as she said.

She continues and her creative juices are flowing at all times as she comes up with new ideas.

"I love it," she said of the work. "I enjoy experimenting with new techniques and glazes. I like making things I like and like seeing people enjoy them."

Though it was once necessary to mix ingredients to produce clay to the consistency that suitable to the Braunschweigs, the clay is now purchased ready to go, mixed by their specifications by a supply company. One ton of clay is purchased at one time, Connie said, adding that she used three tons of clay last year.

She has not attempted to use the potter's wheel which Jerry abandoned but prefers the hand work she does.

The process is long, beginning with a chunk of clay which is placed between boards and canvas run through a machine similar to an old washing machine wringer to flatten it. The clay is flattened from 1/2" to 3/4".

Connie's latest creations bring in nature. She has discovered that she can imprint flowers, leaves and even weeds by rolling them onto the clay and then removing them. Some of her favorite items to use are foxtail and broom corn and leaves of elephant ears, grape vines, castor bean and lamb's ear. The effects are magnificent and also creates texture to the finished pieces.

The next step is to place Styrofoam forms on the clay to trim around, making platters, plates, trays.

Vases are also popular items she creates going through the same process but wrapping the clay around cylinder or square forms.

The clay is left to dry for a few hours until it reaches the "leather" stage and then it is cooked in a kiln at a temperature of 1,800 degrees for up to 24 hours, bringing it to its bisque stage. The pieces are cooled and "glazed" (painted) and cooked again at a temperature of 2,231 degrees.

The process is long and patience is necessary, Connie said, but sometimes not present! Problems happen when that patience is absent.

All of the pieces are lead-free, food-safe and dishwasher- and microwave-safe. Some prefer to use the pieces as decorations instead of for useful items - and that's fine, too.

Two very popular items at this time of year are the angels she has created and the hand pieced Santas with all kinds of details and texture. She has made a couple different angels - the newest is adorned with copper wire wings - and has created 15 different Santas over the years. She has a great deal of fun coming up with the Santa creations.

The list of other pieces made in the shop is lengthy and includes bird feeders, bird baths, bird houses, garden angels, earrings, pins and decorative garden stakes such as bugs and bees.

Juried art shows, craft shows and word of mouth has gotten many of the items sold. She also has several items in various art and gift galleries.

Connie's creativity will continue and new products will be produced. She is thankful for Jerry and his expertise. "He is my inspiration and he helps me when I get in a bind, He is so knowledgeable. He truly is my mentor."

Children Jess (and husband Mike Norris) and Jim (and fiancee Heidi Meyer) have always been supportive of the business and the creativity that has gone on for so many years. Though a law student, Jess enjoys working with graphic designs, and Jim has selected graphic design as his college major. Their artistic parents have rubbed off on them!

"I am so enthusiastic about all this and only look to be better in the next few years. There's a lot of ideas going around in my head for next year," she said.

She is satisfied with nearly each item she creates and is pleased knowing that the result has come from a mere lump of clay. "Like a painter and their canvas, I do mine in clay."

Anyone interested in viewing Connie's work may give her a call at 284-2135 and set up a time to stop over.

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