Minnesota 2009

The land of lakes and potters was fertile ground for me on this trip. I had placed Minnesota in the back of my memories from college when I first trained with Marlene Jack at William and Mary. It was a fabled land where hearty craftspeople eager to be off the grid went to make pots in a magical community of like minded people. JD Jorgenson’s Pottery did not disappoint. Humbled by the stories of Lynsi’s internship in this closed system studio where she had helped build a kiln and fire pots, I planned to make this trek some time this past summer. Near the campuses of St. Johns/St. Bennedict, JD Jorgenson’s pottery sits on pretty land with a three chambered wood fire kiln, a straw bale contstructed studio, a wood fire pizza oven, a wooden hot tub and an old farm house that is home to JD, his wife Sara and their two adorable children Micah and Ofelia.
The studio was a pole shed filled in with straw bales and plastered over with a special concrete to make it weather proof. I had heard and seen the early stages of this kind of construction when some friends in WV built their home. To stand in one of these completed structures is impressive. Heated by a recycled wood stove from a friend of JD’s, the inside was inviting and snug.

JD’s pots line the simple shelves on the wall, there is no sink, but there are huge trash cans full of clay that has been dug in Minnesota and North Dakota. JD alternates between a beautiful black porcelain-like body that is part Minnesota clay and part North Dakota, a white porcelain body and a white decomposed granite from North Dakota. I have more to learn about the process of collecting clay and hope to collect some at Smithfield, where all the bricks for the 1824 manor house were made and fired on site.

The kiln lives under a simple tin roof pole shed, and it is a miracle of construction and science. The three chambers were purposely designed to allow JD flexibility in the number of pots he can fire. The smallest chamber alone can fire 400 or more 3 lb pots. I can’t imagine what the entire kiln could fire. The structure feels like an alien brick ruin of some culture that is long dead. It was built all by hand by JD, two apprentices and potting friends. Many recycled bricks from a local brick company, hand built masonite molds for the arched and vaulted chambers, and countless other resources that are hard to recall. Requiring 3-4 days to fire it is a magical process that requires many dedicated people to make happen.

The Korean style kick wheel was a challenge I could not resist– but only with the knowledge that I could fix my back at Dr. Hudspath’s when I returned to Virginia. You have to simultaneously kick and center clay. I had never experienced such immediate muscle fatigue in my life. After three tries I managed to make one centered pot. JD sat down to throw off the hump and made it look effortless. I was never so thankful for my electric brent wheel. Playing with the rich black clay that is part Minnesota and part North Dakota was delightful. I wish I could have brought some home.

Our time with JD and his family made a delightful heart of the trip. After some home-made wood-fired pizza and a couple glasses of wine, we sat around to talk about a future connection between JD Jorgenson Pottery and La Capretta Pottery.

In between the first and second visit to JD’s, Lynsi and I went to the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. There were too many pots and artists to list in this blog, but you can see them on my flickr page . The best discovery was Laurie Shaman’s work.
Her electric-fired hand-built earthenware pieces are one of the biggest AHA! moments I’ve had in a while. I can only make an educated guess at how these are created. She mimics the effects of atmospheric firing with pale washes of underglazes (or oxides). Then she makes detailed drawings on top of these backgrounds with a slip trailer. Her subjects include rabbits, birds, insects, Italianate cityscapes, and stylized Roman statue-like figures. I could not wait to get home to try some experiments with Little Loafers and underglazes at cone 6. After the bunny pot, and looking at Laurie’s works, I hope to get back to a place where I am making clay art that can satisfy the painter and sculptor in me.

After such a tremendous trip filled with uncanny moments that have turned me more definitively toward making La Capretta work, I am overwhelmed. I hope to start translating this inspiration into new work soon. Lynsi will be gone til February, so I have a few months.

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