Gallery 209, located at 209 E. River St. features Derek L. Larson and Dale Robinson as July’s featured artists. Each month, Galerie 209 highlights the work of two artists from their gallery list: one from their 2D program and one from their 3D program. Connect Savannah contributor DJ Hellerman spoke with the two artists about their work and how Savannah inspires their work.
Larson grew up in LaPlata, Maryland. In high school, he discovered his love for sculpture and ceramics. In 2006 Larson moved to Savannah to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, and in 2010 he received his Masters of Fine Arts in Sequential Art. In 2020, after a decade of creating comics and paintings, Larson returns to his first artistic love: ceramics. Larson lives in downtown Savannah where he makes art and enjoys the slow, leisurely life of the south. Larson finds inspiration in the architecture, natural beauty and quirky characters of Savannah that bring this city to life.
CS: What inspired your return to working with clay?
DL: I have always been creative and I drew a lot. In the second year of high school, I took a ceramics class and I loved it. I’ve always loved comics, but careers weren’t for me. The character design courses I took at SCAD had a big influence on my work. I could use clay and Sculpey [Clay]. I think you can see the references in my work. A friend of mine was taking classes at Savannah Clay Spot and encouraged me to take a class. So I did it. Immediately I knew this was where I needed to be and what I needed to do. During COVID, I took clay home, got tools, and started making handcrafted and slab ceramics. I have since gone to the races. After 20 years, I remembered that this was my calling. I feel like I never left. Now this is my second chance and all of my life experiences come together in clay.
CS: How does it feel to have your hands in the mud?
DL: Yes! It has been a great thing. I have experienced life changes. I was in a difficult situation, depressed and just didn’t feel it. I started to work with people who helped me to be present and in the moment, without worrying about the past or the present. Ceramics was my way of doing this and things started to change spiritually. It was a way to practice ceramic life skills. I get lost. The chatter in your mind calms down. It’s a flow and I enter the zone. I am totally there. I can go there for hours. It’s a way to tap into more energy. You never know how something will come out of the oven and how it will be glazed. Letting go of attachments, having goals but not being attached is for me the Taoist and Buddhist part.
CS: Do you have an oven? Where did you get the work done?
DL: Twice a week I do an open studio at Savannah Clay Spot. The rest of the time I work at home. Recently, I bought a small oven to cook small jobs. But, much of my work is taken from Savannah Clay Spot. Lisa Bradley, the owner of Savannah Clay Spot, is amazing. She has done so much for me and for many people in the community. After taking a few classes with Lisa, I am now mostly self-sufficient. But Lisa is always there to help. It is an amazing place and such a great community with a lot of love and a lot of support that fills a psychological need for many people. It’s fun to be there and support everyone on whatever they’re working on.
CS: Your work is intentionally whimsical, heartwarming, and recognizes the magic that surrounds us. What inspires you about Savannah?
DL: Wow. That’s all. It is about history, mystery and traditions. There is the supernatural lurking in the windows and basements on the third floor. Savannah has an energy … you know. I can feel it here. It has always been a city of ideas and people are passionate about creativity and making things. It’s really supportive. And, I know it’s not like that everywhere, but it’s here. For more information, follow Derek on Instagram: @dereklarsonceramics.
After a 30-year career as a chemist, Robinson decided to pursue his interest in photography as a creative outlet. For almost a year, Robinson spent almost every day taking photos and developing his personal style and his work. Robinson enjoys photographing landscapes that use fog, mist and shadow to convey the feeling of the Savannah and the Low Country. Many of his images are iconic monuments of the savannah captured in his own way. Robinson also photographs coastal birds, especially egrets and herons found around Savannah.
CS: After a 30-year career as a chemist, what excites you about photography?
DR: My interest in photography started in the 70s and 80s, when everything was filmed and cameras were practically all manual. The technical aspect of using the film and manually adjusting the aperture and shutter speeds appealed to my scientific side. Now, with digital photography, I just allow myself to discover the landscape and the landscapes that surround me.
CS: What was it like taking pictures almost every day for an entire year?
DR: When I decided to pursue photography as more than a hobby, I needed to develop my skills and style. I felt the way to achieve this goal was to go out into the field and take pictures pretty much daily. It was wonderful at first, but getting up quickly enough at 4:30 a.m. to catch the best light can be a chore. It’s also hard to get excited about photographing the same subjects over and over again. But I’ve learned that once you find interesting topics, it’s about finding the right perspective, lighting, or time of year to create a truly unique image.
CS: How has your understanding of Savannah changed?
DR: I lived in Savannah for over 40 years, but until I started exploring our city with a camera, I never realized how much history had played out in Savannah over the years. Last 280 years.
CS: What about the landscapes and birds that continue to captivate your imagination?
DR: When I walk around with my camera, things slow down, I am totally immersed in my surroundings. It seems like I can walk around parts of Savannah that I have been to dozens of times and will always see new things. As for birds, I tend to favor egrets, they are incredibly beautiful when in breeding plumage. I always stop and watch when I see a white egret against a deep blue sky, they just seem to glow.
Robinson’s photograph is sold exclusively through Gallery 209. For more information on the two artists, visit galerie209savannah.com.