Jeff Henderson with his various creations

Down to Earth with Jeff Henderson

OU Outreach employees know we have a wealth of talented folks in our midst, but some might be surprised to learn about the creative side of the director of CCE-IT, Jeffrey Henderson.

Those who know him describe Jeff as soft-spoken, helpful, kind, and immensely intelligent. But there is one descriptor that might not jump to mind quite as quickly – artist.

Reverse-instinct

Until a few years ago, Jeff Henderson had never considered himself ”artistically inclined.“ He had been invited to attend a few ceramics classes at the Firehouse Art Center in Norman, OK, but had not taken the invitation seriously. “I had never created artwork, I’m definitely not an extrovert, and the class seemed to be a combination of those two things. It just didn’t seem like something I would be very good at,” he admitted.

His attitude changed, however, when he suffered a back injury that left him in pain and with limited mobility a few years ago.

“After that, I decided to try something I had never considered before,” he said. “It was really a reverse-instinct for me.”

Jeff enrolled in the class shortly afterward. He took it slow at first and tried not to put too much pressure on himself. “I just made it my goal to get my hands dirty. I figured I couldn’t screw that up,” he laughed.

He soon learned that ceramics was something he enjoyed and returned to take another class even after his back injury had improved. He found the process relaxing, therapeutic, and an effective way to manage stress.

“I returned to the Firehouse ceramics class because I enjoyed it,” he explained. “The challenge of it was fun and relaxing, but the elemental nature of it had surprising appeal. For whatever reasons, I really enjoy the challenge of trying to find and reveal a given piece of clay’s intrinsic form. I am also honored to be working with the basic components of our existence: earth, wind, fire, and water. The focus derived from that is meditative itself, but it also drowns out the din of stressors.”

Letting the art become what it ”should be”

By the end of his first class, the art itself had also begun to take on a shape and a life of its own. Jeff’s work is a combination of delicate clay manipulation and a willingness to let the work become what it “should be.”

“I never know what the final piece will look like when I get started,” he said. “In the class, we joke that it’s a little like rolling the dice. I just get my hands muddy and let the rest happen on its own. The piece will take whatever form it wants to, and the ‘art’ part of it comes out of that.”

He doesn’t make ceramics for attention or acclaim, although his work definitely deserves both. He creates pieces for friends, family, and loved ones and enjoys being able to create ceramics others might enjoy. His work was most recently on display in the Staff Art Show in April, where he showed an urn he had created in honor of a friend who had recently lost a pet. His daughters and mother-in-law were so inspired by the piece that they asked him to enter it into the show.

When asked what inspired such an intricate and detailed piece, he said, “Most simply, my love for my friend and sympathy for him due to the death of his dog. However, those motivations did not make me decide very many details specifically. I still tried to not get in the way and just let the clay become what it ‘should be.’ The only specific thoughts I had were that I should leave some clay exposed. It will be raw and dark like the sadness of my friend’s loss. At the bottom of the bare clay though, I put a ’teardrop‘ of green glaze (though some turned red). Those teardrops (and the one on the lid) are intended to be the passing of grief and continuation of precious life.”

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