Arthur Halvorsen’s work stands out. That’s kind of the point.
“I think of my pots as the drag queens of pottery. They come out when it’s really special,” says Halvorsen, an adjunct pottery professor at Lesley’s College of Art and Design and one of 12 $15,000 Brother Thomas Fellowship winners this year.
A native of Braintree, Massachusetts, Halvorsen enrolled at the Maine College of Art not sure whether he wanted to major in ceramics or photography. Ceramics won.
“I realized I didn’t want to be photographing weddings all of my life. I would rather make the cake stand for the wedding,” says Halvorsen, who has been teaching at Lesley since spring 2019.
Energetic and gregarious himself, the artist wants his designs to stand out, to be the pieces people use for special occasions.
“I play with every color in the coloring box,” he explains.
Halvorsen mostly creates functional pottery as opposed to sculpture, and each piece is brightly painted with images he gathers from the city and nature.
“I see traffic cones as the urban wildflower,” he says. “That’s the lens I see the world through. I like to give inanimate objects personalities.”
Halvorsen starts his process by painting his designs on paper, which he transfers to the clay, peeling away the paper to reveal buoys, lobsters, dots, flowers, cityscapes and more in vibrant oranges, yellows, reds and blues. He envisions a similar reveal as his pieces are used for wedding cakes, holiday spreads and other special occasions.
“The mystery, the joy behind them is taking the food away and seeing the theme come out,” he says. “It’s so unexpected.”
Also unexpected is receiving the Brother Thomas Fellowship, which comes with a $15,000 award to be used at the artist’s discretion. Established through funds donated by Benedictine monk and celebrated ceramic artist Brother Thomas Bezanson, the biannual fellowship supports mid-career artists in the Boston area. Previous Lesley winners include former Boston Poet Laureate and Lesley Professor Danielle Legros Georges, poet and publisher Enzo Silon Surin ’12, and animator and adjunct faculty Maya Erdelyi.
Halvorsen says he was one of 70 artists nominated this year. After submitting a portfolio of his work, a resume and a one-page letter on how the fellowship would affect him and his art, Halvorsen sat back and waited for a rejection letter.
“Ceramics really puts you in your place in life,” Halvorsen says. “Failure is a big part of ceramics. This very humbling experience, I love that about it.”
He was surprised to open an email from the Boston Foundation with “congratulations” in the opening line.
“I started crying right away,” he recalls.
Halvorsen is very much a working artist, which makes the recognition that much more meaningful. In addition to his full-time job at a South End hardware store, he teaches pottery at Lesley and Mudflat Studios.
“I love connecting with my students,” he says. “I love getting down to the nitty gritty. I also love seeing my students have the ‘aha’ moment. Then I feel like I said something right.”
After finishing one of his many jobs, Halvorsen often works until midnight at his studio at Mudflat or on drawings at home while “The Golden Girls” streams from his iPad.
With the fellowship, Halvorsen can afford to devote one day a week to his pottery. He also plans to travel Europe next summer for inspiration and to attend an artist residency in Maine.