Work is under way on Wheel House Studio, a ceramic art and production facility planned for Lansing’s REO Town neighborhood. Owner/artist Dan Nunez has been teaching ceramics in the Lansing area since 2009.
“I just purchased my first sledgehammer,” said ceramics artist and instructor Dan Nunez. “I’ve never owned anything in my life besides a car, and now I have demolition tools. It’s surreal.”
Being a new small business owner is a world of fresh experiences. There are the mountains of paperwork, the challenges of learning how to market yourself and the random bouts of insomnia that come from making exciting new purchases. Of course, that last one is highly subjective, particularly when matters of blunt instruments of destruction are involved.
Nunez owns more than just a hammer these days — he is the recent co-owner of 1103 S. Washington Ave., a corner building in Lansing’s REO Town neighborhood that will soon be home to his ceramic teaching/production facility, Wheel House Studio. It will open in fall 2018, but Nunez is already neck deep in a $250,000 renovation project on the space. Which, for now at least, mostly consists of taking out walls and ceilings and posting videos of the work to his business’ Facebook page.
“I call it my series of short-term goals set against my delusions of grandeur,” Nunez said. “It’s like a ‘Game of Thrones’ wedding — there’s always something awesome and then something you have to deal with.”
Nunez, 33, has been teaching and making art since 2009. After earning a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in sculpture at Western Michigan University, the Lansing native began teaching ceramics for the East Lansing Parks, Recreation & Arts department. He also worked as a substitute teacher for seven years at East Lansing High School.
Eventually, Nunez fell in with REACH Studio ART Center, the REO Town nonprofit that works to connect Lansingarea kids with visual arts. But Nunez says he’s no natural artist.
“If you would have told me (when I was in school) that I’d end up teaching ceramics, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Nunez said. “But then I don’t think you want to learn from a natural. You want to learn from someone who’s had to learn it for themselves. I think it’s what’s made me a better artist and a better teacher.”
As part of REACH, Dan played a key role in several high-profile community art projects, including a rhinoceros sculpture installed at Potter Park Zoo, the 18-foot tall “Bottle Rocket” sculpture positioned outside Impression 5 Science Center and the Board of Water and Light’s light-up stegosaurus float for the Silver Bells in the City parade. He also designed and crafted the ceramic mugs used by his soon-to-be neighboring business, Blue Owl Coffee Co.
“That was my first commissioned work,” Nunez said. “For years, I’ve gotten away with not buying wedding presents, which is the extent of what I’ve done with my art up until now.”
But Nunez said the community art projects don’t speak to what he normally makes.
“I usually make nightmare-tortured faces, weirder stuff, but I found that I liked making mugs. If everything else fails, maybe I could get a gig doing that,” Nunez said.
And he’ll have the built-in base. In addition to future work with Blue Owl, the craft microbrewery Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale is set to open in the space adjacent to him later this year; Nunez has already landed a deal to design the drinkware for Sleepwalker’s mug club. It may not be keeping him up at night, but for his part, Sleepwalker owner Jeremy Sprague is already excited about that upcoming purchase.
“(Dan’s) art blows me away,” Sprague said. “We will be honored to have his art under our roof.”