When Art is Grounding

New Hampshire-based ceramicist Don Williams finds meaning in creating both intriguing sculpture and everyday items.

Don Williams finds comfort and joy in the balance between sculptural and functional work. A New Hampshire-based ceramicist, Williams’ focus moves between the two, with each having a distinct purpose in his creative realm.

With its importance in human ritual and routine, tableware is one of the mainstays of his functional work. Creating these items, Williams says, is “extremely grounding.” Starting his work off with an “intimate, simple form,” such as cups, is a great way to “open up an avenue to creativity.”

Between Black and White, 14”X10”X5”, stoneware, salvaged wood, rebar. Perry Smith photo

This simplicity results in beautiful pieces that find their way into the cupboards of many homes. Visitors to his Deerfield, New Hampshire, studio tell Williams about pieces they purchased from him decades ago. These 20+ year old items — cups, plates, and the like — are still in happy use today by their owners.

Williams isn’t the only one that sees the deep value in these handmade goods. Today’s trends toward sustainability and support of local businesses may be influencing consumers, and it’s an idea that Williams completely understands. “Making vessels that people use every day is starting to be valued again,” he says. This goes beyond a connection to the Earth and nature, invoking a spirit of community as well. “Eating off of handmade stuff is meaningful,” he says. “It makes the whole experience of being together, sharing food, a fuller experience.” It’s the significance of these connections that draws Williams so strongly to functional artwork.

Don Williams, Inner Sanctum

Inner Sanctum. Perry Smith photo.

Inspiration for Williams’ sculptural work and wall pieces comes primarily from architecture and landscapes, as he looks to find where the manmade world and the natural world intersect. The outcome of his vision is seen in sculptures and wall pieces that combine clay with other materials, including found objects.

It’s undeniable that the environment of New England has influenced Williams, especially given his relationship with nature. Born in New Jersey, he moved to New Hampshire to attend college and was understandably drawn to the region by its picturesque landscapes and rich history. Initially intending to study veterinary medicine, he quickly found himself falling back into an old love — ceramics. As a child, he had been surrounded by art, often helping his mother — an art teacher and interior designer — by painting tiles or making other small creative contributions. During his college years, this proclivity toward art returned, and he pursued a BFA in ceramic sculpture.

“As I grew up, I kind of realized, this is who I am.” New England, it seems, is a place where people return to their roots.

Williams’ works have been exhibited throughout the Northeast and across the US. Upcoming exhibits include the North Country Studio Conference 25th Anniversary Exhibition in the League of NH Craftsmen Headquarters Gallery in Concord, New Hampshire, as well as Small Kingdoms, an exhibit at the Kelley Stelling Contemporary Gallery in Manchester.

Don Williams – Ceramicist
Deerfield, New Hampshire
Top image: Confrontation. All photos by Perry Smith.


Janet ReynoldsWhen Art is Grounding