Brothers find inspiration in shattered pottery and lost cities | @YesWeekWhitney

After brothers Brad and Bryan Caviness lost nearly 300 pottery pieces to a terrible incident with a misfired kiln, they drew inspiration from buildings that had been lost during some of history’s major wars.

Brad has been making pottery for about 15 years while his brother Bryan has a background in architecture. Together they recreate miniature replicas of temples, cities and cathedrals from around the world, inside large broken jugs.

“We’ve become connoisseurs of cracking pottery,” said Bryan Caviness.

The brothers used to work together on restoration projects for the City and other historic preservation entities. Meanwhile Brad had been collecting historic pieces of pottery from around the world for years, typically only being able to afford broken bits and shards.

“Then the recession hit, and we didn’t get any work,” said Bryan Caviness.

The brothers decided to devote all their time and energy into creating original pottery. They dug their own clay to save money and built their own kiln by hand near their studio in Browns Summit.

“We sort of put ourselves out on the moon,” said Bryan Caviness.

After the kiln misfire the brothers drew inspiration from their love of lost historic architecture in an effort to save some of the pieces.

The boys also thought back to their childhood when their Grandmother taught a class at the local YMCA on how to make dioramas in a shoebox.

At first they built facsimiles of old European towns as they looked before World War I and World War II. Bryan was especially inspired by old pictures of Krakow, Poland.

In 2010 the brothers took a few of the jars to a show. Bryan loved the pieces so much that he purposefully overpriced them in hopes that the brothers could end up hanging onto them for a while longer, but the jars sold well. At prices of $1,000 to $2,000 each, these tiny towns were more popular than any pottery the brothers had ever made before.

“The response was really inordinate,” said Bryan. “We didn’t expect it.”

A World War II vet approached the brothers to purchase a piece that he said reminded him of Anzio, Italy. According to Bryan, another woman burst into tears upon seeing a model depicting Krakow. Her granddaughter explained that her grandmother’s family had been victims of the Holocaust. The granddaughter then came back to purchase the piece for her grandmother.

There is something whimsical and haunting about a representation of a perfect little town, as it was before it was destroyed by war, viewed through a gaping broken hole in a piece of pottery.

Bryan uses his architectural understanding of perspective to create a sense of depth and distance inside the contained spaces. The brothers sculpt and carve chunks of clay, and then arrange them piece by piece inside the jars before firing the finished model in the kiln to fuse everything together.

In order to recreate the stained glass of an old cathedral, they take tiny pieces of crushed colored glass and melt them together into the desired pattern. When the finished miniature windows are lit up from inside the result is very tranquil. The small scene feels larger than life, and it is like stepping back in time to be alone in the quiet of these solemn places.

The brothers began thinking of other endangered world heritage sites, and how buildings and artwork continue to be lost today.

“We wanted to make artwork that brings attention to that problem,” said Bryan.

They expanded their work from European towns to the Middle East. The natural and ancient look of cities like Jerusalem and Petra worked well with the style of the clay pots. For these cities and ancient sites of Syria and Egypt, the brothers spend more time making sure the outsides of the pots match the weathered villages inside. They carefully crack and distress the pots to give them an organically ancient appearance.

“We spend a lot of time trying to make things look old,” said Bryan.

The pieces have caught the attention of several local galleries. A few of their  diorama pots were recently on display at Elements Galley on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro. In September, the brothers will have an even larger exhibition of their work featured next door at Ambleside Gallery.

While the response to the pieces have taken the brothers by surprise the images of cities lost to violence and time continues to stir their imagination as they recreate worlds inside the walls of their pottery. !


Bryan and Brad Caviness will exhibit their work at Ambleside Gallery at 528 S. Elm Street, Greensboro beginning September 1st. Ambleside is open on Tues-Sat from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on the pottery contact 336-621-0221.