In the Loop

Bringing Ceramic Art to Life on Maui with Lee Oululani Plevney

Ceramicist Lee Oululani Plevney at work in her studio. -- BETTY PLEVNEY photo

Ceramicist Lee Oululani Plevney at work in her studio. -- BETTY PLEVNEY photo

Have you ever stood on the distant shores of another land longing for home? Lee Oululani Plevney often looked out across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, remembering her mother who was born and raised on Maui. She longed for the day she could make Maui her home. Two years ago, Plevney brought to life her vision of Hawaiian pottery when she established her ceramics studio on the slopes of Haleakala in Pukalani.

“If Haleakala is wao akua, the wilderness of the gods,” she said, “I wanted to be near this creative force. I wanted to feel that Pele, the goddess of fire, was watching out for me each time I opened my own miniature volcano, which is my kiln.”

While pottery making is an ancient art, reaching back to 24,000 B.C. when small animal and human figurines were fired in kilns that were partially dug into the ground, it has no historical tradition within the Hawaiian Islands. The early Polynesians encountered a land devoid of the rocks that could weather into suitable clay, so they never built an indigenous ceramic art tradition. The clay that was finally discovered in the early 1930s was hidden in small, swampy pockets high in the West Maui mountains and the Ko’olau Range on Oahu and barely reachable by artists that were just beginning to create a viable ceramic art industry. These contemporary ceramics pioneers included Claude Horan, Toshiko Takaezu, Isami Enomoto and Harue McVay.

“I want to establish my own unique style in clay to pioneer a new interpretation of the land, ocean and sea life that I encountered,” Plevney said. “I want to honor my aumakua, the honu, through the work I create.”

Ceramic art making is a many-staged process. It takes Plevney about two weeks to complete one of her works. The process begins by throwing stoneware clay on her pottery wheel to create a simple vessel. She then shapes and bends the piece by hand, adding texture and altering the form to create distinctive bowls, vases and platters. Or, she might roll out a giant slab of clay then cut and form it into ceramic surfboards. Next, she bisque fires, glazes and final fires each piece before it is ready for sale.

Lee Oululani Plevney uses her special lava glaze on  “Lave Tube 1 - Breathing Hole for the Earth’s Soul” which creates exploding air pockets within the glaze evoking the breath of Pele. -- BETTY PLEVNEY photo

Lee Oululani Plevney uses her special lava glaze on “Lave Tube 1 - Breathing Hole for the Earth’s Soul” which creates exploding air pockets within the glaze evoking the breath of Pele. -- BETTY PLEVNEY photo

“What makes my ceramic art particularly unique are my glazes,” Plevney explained. “I mix them myself to create deep marine blue, bright aqua and watercolor green. I have two specialty glazes. One is my lava glaze which creates exploding air pockets within the glaze and, I like to think, evokes the breath of Pele. The other is my crawl glaze which creates distinct shell- and coral-like appearances on my pieces.”

Plevney has shown her work in many festivals and shows on the mainland and Hawaii. In 2014, she was awarded the Gosport Art Festival Award of Distinction for Ceramics in Portsmouth, Va. Most recently, she was one of 76 artists chosen out of nearly 400 entries to exhibit in the Hawai’i National Parks 2016 Centennial Juried Exhibition, which took place at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.

Her artwork can be found at the four Maui Hands galleries in the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali, Lahaina, Makawao and Paia; the Lahaina Arts Society Gallery; Kaukini Gallery in Kahakuloa and U’i Gallery in Kahului. To meet her in person and talk story, she is at the Maui Swap Meet in Kahului every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. or at the new Maui Gift & Craft Fair at the Lahaina Gateway shopping center every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. During November, she will be the artist-in-residence from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday at the Makawao Maui Hands gallery at 1169 Makawao Ave.

If you would like more information, call 633-6303, or email lee@plevney.com.

Lee Oululani Plevney adorns a ceramic surfboard with a honu, or turtle. -- Lightsavor Photography / SCOTT DAVIDSON photo

Lee Oululani Plevney adorns a ceramic surfboard with a honu, or turtle. -- Lightsavor Photography / SCOTT DAVIDSON photo

A vase from her “Sea Urchin” series -- BETTY PLEVNEY photo

A vase from her “Sea Urchin” series -- BETTY PLEVNEY photo

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