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Potter’s love of the natural world inspires his work

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Potter Travis Berning, a native of western Kansas now living and working in western North Carolina, will give the next Greer Lecture at Bethel College.

Berning’s show, “Recent Works,” opened Feb. 21 in the Fine Arts Center Gallery.

The lecture is March 6 at 7 p.m. in the Administration Building chapel, followed by an artist reception outside the FAC Gallery. Both are free and open to the public.

In addition to the Greer Lecture, Berning will spend several days on campus as artist in residence. He will conduct ceramics workshops with Bethel students and area high school students March 7 from 1-4 p.m. and March 8 from 9 a.m.-noon, as well as meeting with senior art majors in the Art Seminar March 6.

Berning, originally from Marienthal, started college at Garden City Community College with a scholarship in two-dimensional art (drawing and painting). After taking a class in ceramics, however, he realized he wanted to work with clay, so he transferred to Wichita State University, where he completed a bachelor of fine arts degree.

The studio at WSU became Berning’s second home, where he focused on developing technical abilities and originality as well as on the functional aspects of the pots. Striving to create something unique and his own, he began experimenting with leaves.

The leaf images on Berning’s pieces reflect his connection to and love for the natural world, which stems from a childhood spent on a farm in western Kansas.

Berning continued his studies at the University in North Texas at Denton, where he worked with instructors Elmer Taylor and Jerry Austin.

In 1998, Berning returned to Kansas, where he set up a studio in an abandoned chicken coop on his parents’ property. He spent the next five years as a full-time potter, traveling to art shows throughout the United States and continuing to increase his mastery of clay forms and techniques.

Berning’s work has been exhibited in shows such as Ceramics USA, and published in Clay Time and Southern Living.

In 2003, Berning moved to the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina, where he partnered with Joe Frank McKee to open Tree House Pottery in Dillsboro and establish the WNC Pottery Festival, which celebrates 10 years in 2014 and is also in Dillsboro.

His work continues to evolve, inspired by nature. He is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

“Recent Works by Travis Berning” will be on display through March 28. FAC Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays, 2-4 p.m. (closed during spring break, March 15-22). Admission is free.

The late Dr. Robert C. Goering, a native of Moundridge and a 1948 Bethel graduate, and his wife Amparo Goering, Wichita, initiated the Greer Fine Arts Endowment at Bethel in 1979 in memory of Milford E. Greer, Jr. A close friend of the Goerings, Greer was interested in literature and music and excelled as an artist. He died in an auto accident in 1972 at age 45. The Greer Endowment helps bring visiting artists and scholars in the areas of music, visual arts or theater to the Bethel campus.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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