Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am the son and grandson of men who were baseball legends in the towns where they played in their youth. With such a lineage, my parents handed down my father’s name, Rodger, in honor of baseball hall of famer, Rogers Hornsby. The origin of the “d” is an ongoing family mystery.
I am artistically drawn to light and water, both of which fascinate and enthrall my imagination. To me, light is a flowing artistic medium that adds animation and drama to objects and spaces. This fascination has been lifelong, although I studied communications and spent many successful years in corporate sales. My lamp art is an inherent love and talent that has consistently manifested itself in some form in homes and offices (both my own and my family and friends) for my entire life.
Benclif Designs has been conceptually alive for many years, finally coming to light (no pun intended) recently as circumstances changed and opportunity knocked. Benclif is the amalgamation of my middle name, Clifton, and my partner’s middle name, Benjamin. Steve, my partner, is actively involved as the financial/relationship manager of the business. His years of corporate leadership afford him a skill set strong enough to rein in a creative like me! We are the fathers of four creative and talented children. Their interesting pursuits, experiences and perspectives are an ongoing inspiration to both of us.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Nature is a mind clearing and healing experience for me. My father took me on many hunting and fishing trips throughout my childhood and adolescence. Being alone in the South Carolina forests, or floating quietly on a lake taught me the calming effect of nature on the mind and body. My earliest memories of the world are all outdoors – digging, exploring, studying and being awed by both flora and fauna. When other kids my age were playing ball, I was in the woods taking photographs, journaling or collecting interesting plants for garden areas my parents reserved especially for me. Anyone who currently knows or has known me for years can attest to the trail of gardens I have left behind as I have traveled and lived around the United States. These days, I spend as much time as I can either in my current gardens, hiking the trails near my home here in Atlanta, GA, or playing at the guitar.
What would be the title of your memoir?
Human Being Doing. I am not wired for simply being, although a few therapists (here and there – grin) have suggested otherwise. My sister describes my energy as the kind that excites and inspires, but “not the kind that gets on others’ nerves.” Human Doing would be an apt title for what has been an adventurous, busy and enlivening life experience.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My fascination has always been with parts and pieces that would usually be tossed in the trash. As a little boy, I would get my mother to let me have toothpaste lids, aerosol can caps, twisted clothes hangers, soup cans – anything that I could fashion into something new. My sister loved this, because I could fashion tiny battery powered lamps and little chandeliers for her dollhouses. She still talks about a “furnace” I made for her one of her rustic toy houses that I had fashioned from a toilet paper roll, aluminum foil and an amber automotive bulb my dad had given me!
Inspiration comes when I see an object, typically the most forlorn and forgotten of the bunch. I can only say that when inspiration strikes, I almost always immediately see the completed project in my mind and then quickly work out every single step in the process of converting the object into the vision I imagine.
What does handmade mean to you?
I think “heartmade” would be a great synonym for handmade. Reading other people’s profiles on Etsy, or speaking with the artists I know, nearly all of them talk about heart and often put their hands on their chests when describing the creative process. So to me, handmade is an expression of one’s inner love of the world, its people, the very experience of being a part of this diverse and beautiful planet.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
It is most definitely my maternal grandmother, Lillie Mae Suttle. Lillie Mae was an upcycling artist long before even the term recycling made it into the general lexicon. Her house and yard were magical to me. Birdhouses made from coffee cans, hanging plant baskets made of old stove pipe, a potting table with an old porcelain farmhouse sink which was surrounded my lush ferns, textured foliage and an array for flowers and color. It is these memories of her home, her voice, her laugh and support that are still alive within me. I think of her nearly every day and am often mentally in her garden as I create my art.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
My earliest recollection of art is the waxy smell of my first box of crayons. There were only eight colors, but there was a world of possibility in that box! Not one for coloring books, I can still recall the thrill of rendering my interpretation of birds, trees, trains, cars, anything I could get onto a white piece of paper. I found some of them while cleaning out my mother’s house just after her death in 2001, and even then I could still capture that feeling of limitlessness.
How would you describe your creative process?
There is something in the center of me that drives my hands and mind to create. For example, there is an item currently for sale in my Etsy shop. It is a rusty steel fork from a garden tiller. I found it while junking near Nashville, Tennessee, on vacation. For the entire trip I obsessed, sketched and mused over that fork! Housekeeping in the hotel had to clean around my doodle pads, and I am sure they wondered about my sanity. Funny thing though: that lamp is exactly how I saw it the minute I picked up that rusty fork. It is that way for me – like a touch creates a mental picture of the completed project. I create the actual piece in reverse, from the completed lamp back to the composite parts. All of them – cords, sockets, nuts and pipes – each piece is mentally installed before I touch a tool.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Hands down, Thomas Edison. The light bulb has fascinated me since I can remember – its marvelous simplicity, its history and how it changed the way we live on the planet. Oh, how I would love to be there and witness – even participate – in that creative process!
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
The little art projects that my children (now 23, 21, 19 and 18) gave to me when they were very young. I have a folder of their paintings, poems, drawings and coloring book tear outs. I look at them from time to time and wax nostalgic for those days. One of my daughters, Jennifer, made two pottery objects in elementary school. One is a small dish created by pressing the clay onto a large leaf, the other is a lion mask. I love them immensely and they are proudly in use in my home.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
As my partner would tell anyone who asked, there are times when he grabs me by the shoulders and firmly states, “Step away from the studio.” Taking his sound advice, I will most often turn to working on a garden project, usually some sort of water feature. I have several in my garden and I toy with the flow of water over glass, copper, and interesting lamp parts from the studio. I find the flow of the water and being outdoors frees my creative channels. Other times, I will simply stop working on a project and turn on the shop vac and start cleaning up the studio. Organized tools and a clean bench often clears my mind and I move forward with ease.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
The metaphorical road to the present has been long and sometimes arduous, due in part to my own fear of releasing my attachment to typical and expected work/career conventions. I liken my experience to floating down the Mississippi River from Minnesota with the desire to be in Baton Rouge. It takes patience, and I can only go as fast at the river flows. There are ebbs and flows and my challenge has been patience in all aspects of the journey. There are times I panic and want to grab onto a branch or put my feet down, but it doesn’t work that way. I have to float and let the river take me. So far it has been thrilling as I ride the ups and downs of faith in the process. I am just taking it as it comes, letting my desire to create and discover be my motivation and my solace. In ten years? I’d like to have an established brand identity, a small brick and mortar store/studio where customers can visit my workspace and peruse the unconverted artifacts along with the finished product, getting inspired and making purchases!