National Potters Sell Work to Benefit the Art School at Old Church

By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts

Every year, the Art School at Old Church in Demarest (Bergen County) stops everything for its pottery show and sale. The entire building is emptied out to provide space for ceramic artists from all over the country to display their newest functional works. Lines form before the champagne opening Friday night and crowds come both Saturday and Sunday. The Art School at Old Church (yes, it’s in an old church) was founded in 1974 by Mikhail Zakin, a legendary artist and figure in the community. She and her friend, artist Karen Karnes, started the pottery sale as a fundraiser for the art school and gallery; it’s now in its 39th year. It’s one of the biggest, oldest and most respected pottery sales in the nation.

For serious collectors and more casual fans, the Art School’s pottery sale is one-stop shopping, featuring top ceramic artists from around the country. This year, only one potter is from New Jersey — Bruce Dehnert. He’s one of 26 artists chosen by Karnes, whose work is also in the show. Karnes was one of the potters who led the revival of handmade crafts in the 1950s. Her stoneware ceramics are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.


Bruce Dehnert makes work in his studio at Peters Valley Craft Center in preparation for the 39th Annual Pottery Show & Sale at the Art School at Old Church.

Dehnert is the head of the ceramics department at Peters Valley Craft Center in Layton. He grew up in Wyoming with parents who read the Whole Earth Catalog and made pots in addition to their careers as an architect and journalist.

“I grew up around handmade pots in the house,” he says. “I just connected with the material and the process, and the fire.”

Firing the clay pots is Dehnert’s favorite part of the process, and at Peters Valley he has access to a wide variety of kilns, from electric to wood-fired. “You get to see the transformation from a clay to a ceramic, and the color. I’m really drawn to color and work really hard to invent my own glazes.”

Dehnert’s work is a favorite with other potters who admire the way he plays with traditional techniques. His whimsical work includes “GT2400s” (cups made for gin and tonics, fired at 2,400 degrees) and oatmeal bowls that reference architectural elements including a flying buttress.

The 39th Annual Pottery Show & Sale at the Art School at Old Church opens with a champagne reception Friday night at 6 p.m. and runs through the weekend (Dec. 6–8). Thousands of pots from 27 renowned potters will be for sale, with a share of the proceeds benefiting the community art school and gallery. For more information, visit

Look for a full story about the pottery show & sale on the Dec. 22 episode of State of the Arts.

Below are pots by Bruce Dehnert.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:30 p.m.