Rhody Maker: Dwo Wen Chen of Three Wheel Studio
The potter, who draws inspiration from nature, opened his celebrated shop on Providence's Wickenden Street a decade ago.
Rhode Island might be in full bloom today but, at Three Wheel Studio in Providence, nature’s verve is always on display.
The bright gallery and shop, which sits atop Wickenden Street in Fox Point, is owned and operated by potter Dwo Wen Chen. His wholly distinct body of work — think: colorful birds and flowers bedecking platters, bowls and teapots — beckons passersby from large street-facing windows. Inside, more of Chen’s pottery mingles with carefully curated ceramics and art by regional makers.
Chen, who was raised in a farming village in southern Taiwan, says he discovered he wanted to be an artist at age ten. Nature has always been a source of inspiration for him; he names Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Linda Christensen and Claude Monet as artistic influences.
His first medium was oil painting and, after studying art at Chinese Cultural University, he immigrated to the United States to further his education at the Rhode Island School of Design. There, he molded and kiln-dried his future as a studio potter.
He opened Three Wheel Studio in 2011 and the shop has remained a favorite amongst ceramics lovers and art collectors alike — for good reason. His work elevates functional objects but never veers into solemnity or self-importance. There’s plenty of room for whimsy at Chen’s wheel.
Chen also celebrates form in his work, most notably with the River Rock collection of mix-and-match table settings, and he accepts commissions; right now, he’s working on a special order dinner set for a couple’s ninth anniversary. But one of his most remarkable collections is the Imprinted Wildflower series, featuring one-of-a-kind designs inspired by plants in Rhode Island.
“Each piece of my Botanical stoneware pottery is hand thrown or sculpted by me,” says Chen. “Real leaves, greenery and flower decoration is then carefully imprinted onto the ware while it’s still in the green (moldable) stages and burned off during the first firing. I apply my own color glazes to each piece of work before the second firing, which gives it a glassy surface.”
The collection is crafted seasonally, when the wildflowers are at their peak, but it affords year-round celebration of, and connection to, the natural world. In rain or snow, over morning coffee or after-dinner dessert, one can trace the velvety petals of cosmos or the textured seed head of a Black-eyed Susan or the irregular leaves of a native fern. Chen’s work is an ode to the ephemeral yet may be used each and every day — and gladly.
For more information on Chen, a custom project or piece from a collection, visit threewheelstudio.com.