One With the Clay

The artistic wheels turn on Wickenden Street


Dwo Wen Chen has a bit of a cult following in this city; fans of his clay creations flock to buy his whimsical teapots, bowls and cups at the twiceannual RISD Alumni Sale or at galleries such as Studio Hop on Hope Street. Fans of Chen’s work will be delighted to learn that they can now stop into his new Three Wheel Studio at 436 Wickenden, where they can not only chat with the artist himself, but also peruse an expansive selection of his work.

Chen’s handcrafted treasures seemingly call to the viewer with their vibrant colors and enchanting compositions. His body of work is the perfect marriage of clay and paint, and of form and function; in conjunction with his humble upbringing, this union makes absolute sense. “I was born in a small farming village in the southern part of Taiwan,” Chen says. “I was very fortunate to have a loving family that indulged me in my artistic tendencies. I still carry with me wonderful memories of many field painting trips all around those bygone quaint villages.”

As that simple environment encouraged Chen’s boyhood creativity, so did his formal academic training in the medium of oil paint. (Chen received a master’s degree in Art Education from RISD.) And it was there that he was introduced to “the wonderful world of clay.” Chen says that since clay is a very forgiving medium – meaning that it’s so easily manipulated, time and time again – it seemed a natural fit for an “ever-curious” artist such as himself.

“I like to think that the most important way my RISD education has affected me was to enlighten me, opening my eyes to all things old and new and beautiful in its own way,” Chen says, almost poetically. “Since I was not classically trained as a potter, I see no dos and don’ts in my pottery making.” Hence, Chen’s functional art pieces, which blend his prowess in both sculpting and working with a paintbrush.

Chen found someone who shared his appreciation for the important role that the arts play in the community, and credits that person – his landlord, Louis – with helping to get the gallery up and running. “Currently, I make about 70% of the ceramic work in here,” Chen says, noting that he often jokes with customers by saying that he has “no other talent but making pots.” He’s been a studio potter since 1995, making limited edition handmade pottery. Clearly, it’s both his technical aptitude and personality that draw in customers and other artists alike.

What’s in store for Chen going forward? “As the gallery grows, I am inviting more potter friends, as well as artists in other disciplines, to show their work here at Three Wheel.” Chen is also presently signing up students as he’ll soon be teaching his first pottery class. “I’ve been in Providence for the past 24 years and I’m loving it still,” he says. “[Opening this studio] has been a wonderful adventure.” 

Dwo Wen opened Three Wheel Studio at 405 Wickenden Street last July but moved a few doors down, to 436 Wickenden last month.