Some of the vessels created by Lititz ceramist Dennis Maust look like they were just excavated — perfectly preserved — from an ancient Egyptian archeological dig.
His hand-built ewers, pitchers and urns feature ornate designs and rich textural detail, belying their 21st century creation.
About 30 to 40 of those works will be exhibited at Crossings Art Gallery at Landis Homes through January. An opening artist reception happens tonight from 6 to 8.
Maust creates everything from functional pottery to elaborate tiles to urns used for cremation. His style, which he admits is hard to pin down, relies on influences from his life. Therein lies the reason for the variety in his work.
“I like the idea of making something with one’s hands,’’ Maust says. “You can pull from your own experience and put it out there in a unique way.’’
He has lots to draw from.
Maust has a Master of Arts degree in painting and ceramics from James Madison University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts.
He actually began his college career as a music major. “I switched to art and never really looked back,’’ he says, though music continues to be an avid hobby.
He has lived in several cities and taught part time at a variety of colleges. He travels as much as possible.
He and his wife, Rachel, have served in various capacities in Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh and East Africa.
And he was a stay-at-home, work-from-home dad to two children, now grown and on their own.
Everywhere he went, every experience he had, he absorbed something that would eventually be manifested in his work.
Maust is a curious person. And for him, that curiosity is a blessing and a curse.
“What I like about my work is there’s never a dull moment,’’ he says. “I don’t run out of ideas, I just run out of time. It’s difficult to market something that’s constantly changing. My dilemma has always been I have too many interests.’’
It was during a trip to the Middle East in 1979 that Maust became enamored with the ancient stone walls he found there.
“The thought of how long the walls had been there was overwhelming,’’ he says. “I found myself taking lots of photographs of surfaces. I’ve often tried to mimic that surface on my pots.’’
He developed his own technique to do just that, which adds to the look of antiquity in his vessels.
His works also allow the soft-spoken artist to unabashedly express social and political concerns.
Fifteen years ago, he exhibited works with strong Middle Eastern references at Lancaster Museum of Art.
“In my gallery talk I mentioned the importance of speaking out when one disagrees with an act of violence or, for instance, with U.S. foreign policy,’’ he says.
Then he took a hammer and proceeded to destroy one of his pieces. When he started toward another piece, the pastor of his church stepped between him and the piece, illustrating his point.
“It was a powerful moment, and I was incredibly relieved to stop the violence to my own work,’’ Maust says.
Since then, Maust says he purposely includes motifs from Islam, Judaism and Christianity in his work, “in an effort to illustrate the beauty of co-existence among the three monotheistic faiths.”
The artist realizes that a casual viewer may not initially understand the meaning behind his work, but nevertheless it’s there, if one takes the time to discover it.
“Objects can be read just like books can be read,’’ Maust says.
“To read an object that has no words, you have to bring your own knowledge, your experience, your visual memories. Something about the piece will remind you of something else and that tells you something about it.
“We have to learn how to read objects. There’s a lot of information in an object if you think about it.”