RCAH assistant professor Doug DeLind’s work on display in LookOut! Gallery

Doug DeLind had to fall off the roof of a four-story barn before he realized he wanted to be an artist.

After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in advertising, DeLind started his own insulation company. He enlisted the help of a friend to make a spray gun that would shoot insulating polyurethane foam.

Not long after, DeLind secured his first job – a couple was looking to renovate an old barn and DeLind had the lowest bid.

The day was hot and the conditions were miserable.  Before work that morning, DeLind had coated himself in a thick layer of Vaseline, hoping to make it easier to clean the stubborn foam from his hands at the end of the day. But before he could start spraying, he had to clean out an abundance of dusty cobwebs in the barn. The dirt clung to his sticky skin, resulting in an uncomfortable, grimy exoskeleton.

Still, he worked on. By afternoon, he found himself perched atop homemade scaffolding at the roof of the barn, fighting with the spray gun – the foam kept clogging the nozzle. He frequently had to stop working to clear it out.

He was careful, but not quite careful enough as he carved away the sticky buildup. He ended up spraying himself in the face with the foam. Temporarily blind, he tried to make his way to the ground, but only succeeded in falling through a hole in the roof to the third floor.

He rushed to the optometrists, where doctors immediately flushed out his eyes. There was no permanent damage done to his vision, but DeLind had reached a conclusion.

“At that point, I just said this is not what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

So he moved on to sculpture – a profession only slightly less dangerous. He worked with fire and kilns and molten bronze as an art student, eventually earning his MFA in ceramics.

He said he was particularly intrigued watching one of his seasoned professors fail at a project. The professor had tried to push the clay too far, and it flopped down onto the table in a pile. But DeLind wasn’t deterred – he was inspired.

“I really thought that was great that he was still challenging the medium, still challenging the boundaries of what you could do with it. I thought ceramics was something I could live with a very long time,” DeLind said. He’s been an artist ever since.  

The LookOut! exhibit, “A Ramble Through Clay,” open through April 17, features a wide variety of DeLind’s work – small standalone sculptures no bigger than a quarter, huge, mounted works, and everything in between. Colors abound – shiny aluminum, pale swirling pink, ashy black and sparkling white. DeLind says the colorful effect is created by the raku firing process. 

“It’s the pyromaniac’s delight of ceramics,” he said, adding that he was skeptical of the Japanese firing technique until he actually tried it. According to Ceramics Art Daily, raku firing gives pieces a unique look because the clay is removed from the heat at maximum temperature.

“When I get it outside, the glaze will harden instantly, so it crackles. It’s the variation within the glaze that’s unique,” DeLind said. “I put it in a garbage can of newspapers and put the lid on, and when it goes in there, the clay is red hot. It looks like the surface is pink, and as it cools, it grabs onto the carbon and smoke in the can, so wherever there isn’t a glaze, it’s black.”

DeLind says what he likes best about raku firing is its unpredictability.

“Almost anything can happen with the glaze. The white and black is predictable, but there’s a lot of serendipity in whether a rainbow forms,” he said.

Many of the pieces in the exhibit deal with the human form, something the artist started experimenting with in graduate school.

“I started looking at the way different peoples would represent the human face. It started with the Greeks, very minimal funeral masks. I got very interested in the way different peoples would abstract the eyes or the nose. And then there’s African art and a different level of abstraction,” DeLind said. “I came up with the idea of making a totem kind of face, a nonrepresentational face.”

“A Ramble Through Clay” is joined by a photography exhibit titled “In the Shadow of Cortés: From Veracruz to Mexico City”. “In the Shadow of Cortés was designed and prepared by Professor Kathleen Myers of Indiana University with photographs by Steven Raymer of National Geographic and Indiana University.

Story by RCAH student Kelsey Block. Images by Katie Wittenauer.