Photo by Brian Doben

Having received an undergraduate degree in printmaking with a minor in sculpture, van der Ven worked as a sailor, goldsmith, and carpenter/builder before becoming an award winning high school art teacher.  Seventeen years in the classroom were interrupted only by a year-long sabbatical in the south of France, where van der Ven worked in Les Buffile clay studio and studied painting and critical theory at the Marchutz School. Later, while still teaching, van der Ven earned an MFA  concentrating his studies on ceramics and drawing.

Simon has been an adjunct instructor at the University of Maine Augusta, University College Rockland, and Unity College. He’s facilitated workshops at Haystack Mountain School of Craft, and has been a resident artist at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado and Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Maine.

Van der Ven’s work has won awards in several national juried competitions. It is held in both private and public collections including the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, the Canton Museum of Fine Arts, and Harrisburg Community College.

Today, van der Ven works as a full-time studio artist and part-time educator. He’s married to author Kate Braestrup with whom he shares six grown children.


I came to mid-coast Maine to work on boats. Ashore, I found a home. The area is astonishingly rich in natural beauty, and has drawn and captivated artists for centuries. A remarkably strong and active arts community has been built from this tradition, and being part of that has proven vital to my artistic practice.

The deepest  connection is through my students. Rural and small-town life isn’t for everyone,  yet young people who grew up in Mid-Coast Maine are often proud to remain. Some leave and find their way back. Still others, build their lives away from here but return every chance they get to keep their connections alive and strong.  Former students remain a very meaningful part of my life and I am so proud to count a number of them as my colleagues. To the right is a  partial list of former students with links to their websites.

Twice a year, my friend Jody Johnstone fires her Anagama kiln.  Helping Jody with the enormous task of loading and firing a wood kiln pulls me out of my studio, into the woods, and into a marvelous team of friends and colleagues, including Betsy Levine, Hanako Nakazato, Megan Flynn (listed to the right), and David Orser.

Firing a wood kiln is a  process that demands long hours and the long view. It involves days and nights, dirt, bugs, sweat, perseverance, and patience. Cooperation and communication are essential. Wood-firing makes it abundantly clear that working with clay is a practice bound to the earth.  I am part of something so much larger than myself.

Being pulled out of my studio is important, as long as it’s only once in a while. Long periods of solo, concentrated work are essential to what I do. But these periods are punctuated by the presence, support, and activity of others. I am lucky enough to have a studio with room  for other artists to come and work. David Warner, Elaine Ng, and Jesse Gillespie are some who have come here to push their practice and mine. Over the years I have had several studio assistants and interns including Meghan Flynn, Miki Glasser, Max Holden, and Austin Smith. My current assistant is Kyla Quigley.

And then there are the visitors – collectors, admirers, and the merely curious included – who complete the foundation of my work.

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