Meet Richard Boehnke (MFA): Open Experimental Studio Artist in Residence

Richard with clay pieces outside. Black and white portrait

Richard Boehnke is a dreamer. A maker, a creator, someone who is not only driven to change the world and make something new, but who also inspires those around him.

An MFA candidate in the LSU School of Art and one of the two artists in residence in the inaugural Open Experimental Studio at LSU’s Glassell Gallery, Richard works with clay – but he is also a scientist, engineer, business professional, and a teacher.

“I don’t have a traditional art background,” he said. “I grew up playing music and I always liked to work with my hands. I took a ceramics class my last semester of high school, and I loved it. I wound up becoming a studio assistant that summer at Yourist Studio in Ann Arbor because my ceramics teacher could see that I wasn’t done, and he helped me get the position. He has been a great mentor of mine.”

Originally from Ann Arbor, Richard studied biochemistry at the University of Michigan, followed by a Master of Science and Master of Engineering in sustainable energy technology at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he received a Fulbright Scholarship. He has been a scientific researcher, a business consultant, a ceramics instructor in Mumbai, India, and an English teacher in Vietnam. After his first Master degrees, he dedicated the first phase of his career to creating a more sustainable world. At Recurve,a software startup company, he worked to support the decarbonization of electric utilities by developing virtual power plants. As a director, he came to a turning point in 2023, wondering where to go next with his career.

“I asked myself, ‘Do I pursue clay?’ I had always wanted to, at some point, wondering if not now, when? I finally decided, ‘Why not make ‘when’ now?’”

It was the right time in his life for a change. So he applied to an MFA in ceramics at LSU, having narrowed down programs to meet his criteria: full tuition stipend to support graduate students, art faculty members that value functional work, and ceramics faculty members that likely wouldn’t retire in the coming years.

As a ceramics artist he’s focused on incorporating sustainability into his practice and advocating for it in the field; he published Clay Culture: Sustainability in Ceramics in Ceramics Monthly’s April 2023 issue. He has exhibited his works nationally including recently, juried The Mudflat Cup Show in Sommerville, MA (2024) and the Crescent City Clay Fest 2023 in New Orleans.

To aspiring artists, or students considering whether to pursue an art degree, Richard advises to be open and seek information: “Reach out to people you know, or other artists that you like their work – talk to people to see if it’s for you. It’s important to know why you’re doing this. Go into the experience knowing your goals.”

“It’s really important for students to understand that art is hard – it involves math, science, chemistry, critical thinking, research. Learning how to understand problems from many different viewpoints.”

“What’s amazing about the arts is that you’re not just learning to paint a picture, make a pot, design in a digital program – you’re learning how to think creatively and to see what’s actually in front of you. Art training forces you to learn to think differently. Currently AI is averaging the internet, but we need people to be able to think beyond averages, critically, and solve novel challenges. These critical thinking skills make art and design students appealing to the job market.”

After graduating with his MFA degree, Richard’s goal is to teach as an art faculty member at a college. “Part of the reason I’d love working in clay is I love to teach; I love to help people get to where they want to go.”

As a graduate student in the studio arts program, he is now gaining practical experience working as a teacher, instructing undergraduate art students as a graduate teaching assistant. Connecting with others as they create is one of his favorite parts of the artistic experience.

“I love the process of creating,” he explained.

“The Open Experimental Studio model gives us the space to focus on process, not products. We [as artists] will be able to focus on exploration, learning, growing, and sharing with the community – not necessarily taking anything home, other than the experiences.”

“I enjoy working with my hands, playing with mud every day,” he said with a laugh. “There’s something [about clay] that allows you to connect in a different way when working with your hands.”

His ceramic work is generally functional: “There’s something different about making something to go on someone’s mantelpiece versus to hold in their hands. I want people to be able to pick [my work] up and say, well, ‘I’m also going to drink my coffee out of it or, put some flowers in it, or I’m going to serve dinner with this.’”

He’s excited to be challenged to grow as a maker through the open studio experience, he said, and to connect with the Baton Rouge artistic community. “Make work and explore, sharing that work with our community and encouraging them to explore – that is the goal.”

The Open Experimental Studio will host a series of informal workshops free and open to the public at the gallery in downtown Baton Rouge to share the experience of artmaking with people in the community. See schedule of events.

“I get inspired by working with different people,” Richard said. “To me, it’s all about the community and building together. It’s such a lovely thing to be able to do something like this – my goal is to be a part of it, and help make the Open Experimental Studio exist so that more people can do it in the future.”

As fellow Open Experimental Studio artist Kim Meadowlark said, “we’ll walk so the next people can run.”

The experience is about community building and creating in an open, ephemeral environment. The message: all are welcome here.

Open Experimental Studio (