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Reasons to Love Minnesota No. 49: The Ceramics Scene

A pottery lover's starter guide

Minnesota has one of the most vibrant pottery scenes in the country—up there with Portland, Asheville, Brooklyn, Oakland, and Los Angeles. ⁣Our clay community is so well-established, in fact, Minneapolis hosted Claytopia, the 53rd annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts in March of 2019. More than 140 offsite clay exhibitions were staged at 80-plus venues throughout the Twin Cities. It was a big deal.⁣

But clay lovers needn’t wait for an annual conference to celebrate our state’s great makers; inspiration is all around. What follows is a handy starter guide to some of the very special studios and potters that make us proud to be newly minted Minnesotans.

THE BEST POTTERY GALLERIES

Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis is the grandaddy of the Twin Cities clay scene, established in 1990.⁣ It hosted five ceramics exhibitions during Claytopia, including “Under the Black and Baltic Deep” at its headquarters in Seward and “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck” in Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) at MSP Airport. The former focused on works by Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian artists; the latter highlights contemporary ceramic sculptors, including powerhouse Minnesotans like Ani Kasten and Kelly Connole, and remains on view through December 2019.⁣

Though NCC ramped things up for NCECA, and will again this fall for the American Pottery Festival (September 6-8, 2019), it should be a year-round destination for pottery appreciators. The gallery is always worth dropping by, as it rotates shows frequently. (To wit: 2017’s excellent “Tempered Beasts” exhibition, featuring work by Crystal Morey, Russell Wrankle, and Alessandro Gallo.) The center also hosts lectures and date-night workshops, plus clay-themed movie nights through its ART@HAND series for senior citizens.

Even the NCC shop is a treat, selling funky clay earrings from artist April D. Felipe’s babyGrapes line, handsome lidded vessels by retired potter Jo Severson, eye-catching architectural slabwork from Olivia Tani, and the coolest avant-garde dishes by Monica Rudquist.

While we cannot recommend the beginners’ wheel-throwing classes at NCC (more on that below), the center remains a solid resource for intermediate and established potters looking to network, learn new skills, and refine their methodologies for everything from soda firing to conceptual hand-building. NCC also hosts a competitive program for studio artists, providing private and shared work space — plus access to kilns, equipment, and materials — to more than 50 artists per year.

At The Grand Hand Gallery in St. Paul, new owners Cathy Weyerhaeuser and Mary Whitney stock a top-notch selection of decorative and functional pieces by mostly Upper Midwest artists, including Tom Jaszczak, Nicholas DeVries, Jan McKeachie Johnston, Dick Cooter, Ernest Miller, and Bill Gossman. Clay isn’t the only medium Grand Hand dabbles in, either; you’ll also find handmade cards and jewelry, patterned boxes by woodturner Ron Van Zee, ironwood spatulas by Paul Schroeder, and beautiful bird’s-eye maple cutting boards from Wisconsinite Edward Wohl.

WHERE TO TAKE POTTERY CLASSES

As mentioned above, we did not have a good experience with our five-week Land of Round Pots (Wheel Throwing 101) class at Northern Clay Center. Most of the students were not true beginners; they were taking this class for its unlimited studio time. Our instructor was a nice guy but did very little instructing. Each three-hour session began with a whirlwind 15-minute demo of some advanced technique or other, then disbanded for what was essentially open studio time. Instead of standing over students’ shoulders, studying their process and critiquing their technique (or lack thereof, in our case), he used studio time to throw his own work. As true novices, we felt totally lost. When he was rattling off glazing techniques in deep potter’s lingo, we were stuck back on day one, still trying to figure out how to wedge our clay balls and center them on a moving wheel. Not cool.

In hindsight, we wish we had chosen a smaller, more intimate studio for our beginner classes. In-the-know friends have vouched for The Workshop MPLS in Nokomis Village and Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley; one of our favorite local ceramicists, Sandwich Ceramic founder Francis Pineda-Fischer, teaches introductory classes at both. Friends of friends went to bat for Studio2 Ceramics in the Northeast. Dock 6 Pottery in Longfellow also intrigues us, as it has a lovely sales gallery attached to its petite studio (pictured above). Some of these classes are pricier than NCC’s offerings, but if they’re more hands-on, it’d be worth the investment. FWIW, we’ve also heard good things about the affordable adult pottery courses offered by Minneapolis Community & Technical College and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. We plan to give Wheel Throwing 101 another shot next winter and will report back on the experience.

WHERE TO BUY
LOCALLY MADE POTTERY

In addition to NCC and Grand Hand, many of our favorite local boutiques also support #minnesotamade pottery. Look for signature tape-pattern tableware by Adam Gruetzmacher at Show & Tell MPLS, elegant ridged vases from Cym Warkov at Combine, pretty metallic-flecked dishes by Liz Pechacek at ŪMEI, chubby splattered lamps and candle holders by Erin Lynn Smith at Forage Modern Workshop, and wavy-cool vases from Sandwich Ceramic at Find Furnish.

THE BEST POTTERY DAY TRIPS

Mark your calendar for the 27th annual St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour (May 10-12, 2019), a three-day event where established ceramicists living and working in the St. Croix River Valley host meet-and-greets, demos, and open-studio tours. Fifty-five artists will be stationed at seven different locations this year, including Ani Kasten’s gallery barn and Matthew Krousey’s woodland home and studio.

Another day-trippable studio we like so much, it is its own ‘Reason to Love’ is Saint John’s Pottery in Collegeville, home of master potter and resident artist Richard Bresnahan.

OTHER POTTERS AND
PEOPLE TO KNOW

A Mano
Fetching decorative and functional pottery by Louisa Podlich. Think dotted jars, striped tumblers, gridded plant holders, and aquamarine-magical salt cellars.

Ben Fiess
The genius ceramic artist behind Inesse, which has done covetable collaborations with Gretel Home, LEIF, Shinola, Koromiko, and Poketo.

Fringe & Fettle
Pastel grooved mugs, textured honey jars, and pretty little nesting bowls from Joanna Buyert, a favorite of the wedding registry circuit. Her studio is based in the Schmidt Artists Lofts in St. Paul.

Kevin Caufield
A founding member of NCC and the godfather of St. Paul’s beloved Caulfield Clay Works. He teaches classes in wheel-throwing, hand-building, raku, and primitive firing techniques and is a regular at the art fairs. A go-to for custom dinnerware.

Minnesota Women Ceramic Artists
A professional organization for female potters working in Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, Northern Iowa, and the Dakotas.

Northrup King Building
The Northeast warren of artists studios that hosts Art-A-Whirl, Art Attack, and First Thursdays is home to a clutch of excellent Minnesota potters, including Hemingway Ceramics and Amy Von Bargen.

There There Collective
Four badass women, making some of the hippest U-shaped earthenware (and playful polystyrene earrings) in all the land.