Denny Lumos demonstrates how easy it is to play one of his stoneware drums. Lumos also makes more traditional ceramics like mugs.
Cathy Cook | El Defensor Chieftain photos


Magdalena potter Denny Lumos has combined his passions for pottery and percussion by creating stoneware drums.

The creation was inspired after a visit to the Middle East when Lumos was getting his seminary degree. He watched a show where a man played a bisque fired drum and wondered if he could create one from stoneware.

Lumos forms a bowl shape and then a tube. He uses goatskin for the drumhead. He can play the drum in his lap or tucked under an arm.

The first drum came to a tragic end when he performed with some friends. One of the performers had a flowing dress that caught on the drum and sent it tumbling. Lumos wasn’t discouraged. He just took it as a lesson and removed prongs from his drum design.

Lumos has also created ceramic windchimes. The first set used bell-shaped cups in different sizes and withstood many a wind storm, but came crashing down after the rope holding them frayed. Again, undiscouraged, Lumos is creating new chimes using small medallions.

The man behind The Pottery Den is enthusiastic about experimenting wtih his craft and not afraid to make mistakes.

Lumos is the artist behind The Pottery Den, based out of Magdalena. He believes firmly that a potter cannot get attached to their pots, because pots break.

“There’s always, maybe it’s going to blow up in the kiln, maybe it’s going to have a mishap and ruin, maybe it’s not going to turn out like you wanted.”

Coffee mugs are one of his favorite things to create, for a very simple reason.

“Oh, because I love coffee.”

There’s also a joy in making functional art that can be used every day. He twists coils together into handles that look like braided rope, but the form and textures of his stoneware mugs are varied. Lumos plays with shape and style.

“Partly because I don’t like to get in a rut. It was very hard on me when I had to make 30 of the same shape. You start feeling like more of a machine. I’ll make a few of the same form, four or five maybe, and then I’ll go to a different form.”

Lumos took his first pottery class in the spring of 1988. He was in the last semester of a music degree. Helping a relative sell pottery at art and craft shows throughout the Midwest had piqued his interest in the art form. With a little extra space in his class schedule, Lumos decided to try his hand at ceramics.

“I spent so much time there because I just fell in love with it. I had a passion for it.”

Lumos went into campus ministry in 1998 and worked on the Southeast Missouri State campus. Taking more ceramics classes gave him an opportunity to connect with the college students he was trying to reach out to.

Everywhere he went, Lumos would seek out a studio and take pottery classes. Finally, he decided to build a kick wheel for throwing.

“A kick wheel is the old style. It’s got a heavy concrete wheel at the bottom that you get moving.”

Denny Lumos creates everything from drums to tea sets.

The wheel turns the throwing head.

After Lumos’s retirement, his wife’s work took them out of the US to Germany and then Japan.

“There was actually a studio not too far from me, but the language barrier was just too great. I didn’t speak Japanese.”

Then Lumos and his wife paid a visit to a village of potters, where she found a teapot she wanted for a souvenir.

“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Man that’s expensive. I could make that.’”

He searched farther afield and found a studio with English speakers that he could travel to by train, where he learned to make teapot sets.

“When I look back, it would have been a whole lot cheaper to have just bought that teapot that she wanted,” Lumos says with a laugh.

The studio class taught him how to turn bamboo cane into handles. Since the glazes were unfamiliar, the teapots he created didn’t turn out exactly how he wanted, but for Lumos learning is part of the fun.

One lesson learned over the years is to pay extra attention to donated clay. Lumos created a pair of large vases from clay he was given. Without realizing it was low fire clay, he took the temperature up to high fire them. The taller vase wilted down and fused to the shorter. Lumos considered smashing one, trying to break it off and grind it down, but there’s no separating the pair and also no reproducing the accidental fusion.

“My wife calls it devotion, which is really kind of cool. This one is worshiping that.”

Lumos loves that clay is basically recycled. As he puts it, every child plays in mud, which is just dirt with water.

“But the thing that makes clay different is that there’s organic matter in there. In other words, something eons ago that was living has died. I’ve told, especially kids, I’ve said, ‘You ever go to your refrigerator and your mom goes in there and opens it and it’s all slimy? That’s exactly what helps clay.’ That slime, that mold, over the years, mixes with the water, the rock, the dirt and that’s what is the element. That’s what makes clay be able to be molded. In the firing process, all that organic material burns away and you’re back to rock that you have reshaped basically.”

Lumos and his family relocated to Magdalena to try their hand at organic farming. The land proved incompatible with their small farm dreams, but New Mexico’s dry climate has helped his pottery. The clay dries so fast that Lumos can throw something in the morning, trim it in the evening and put it in the kiln the next day.

Long term, Lumos would like to fix up an RV to create a traveling studio and he hopes to start teaching people about pottery again. Lumos can be found at area craft fairs. For more information on The Pottery Den, visit the business’s Facebook page.