On Seeing FIRED UP STUDIOS

You could say I was pretty “fired up” to visit Saint John’s Pottery Studio last summer. Perhaps just as exciting was my discovery of Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley, Minn., which is just a stone’s throw away from my house.

Hundreds of original works of pottery grace the expansive gallery space of Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Through the magic of the Facebook algorithms that peg me as an art buff, I received an event notice to Fired Up Studios’ Annual Holiday Open House. I expected to come upon a small storefront with a few clay artists peddling their wares around a tepid carafe of coffee. Instead, Fired Up Studios is a grand and expansive pottery gallery/shop, along with a potter’s dream studio (plus they had a huge spread of goodies—that earned even more “brownie” points from me, pardon the pun).

For a fairly modest monthly membership fee, artists enjoy twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week access to all of the equipment and supplies they could ever need to throw, spin, and form piece after piece. And for us pottery fans, the gallery/shop is open every day and features affordable art to purchase and enjoy at home.

What’s more, Fired Up Studios has a heart for the community. As part of its holiday event, potters donated works to a silent auction benefitting Haven Housing, a Minneapolis non-profit helping women in crisis.

Membership wouldn’t make sense for me at this time—especially since I have never thrown a pot in my life—but my husband and I hope to attend the studios’ beginners class someday. For now, I continue to ponder my observations from my first visit:

Horse hair becomes a medium for producing ethereal shadows and fine lines once a piece reaches the kiln.

More than clay
Sure, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to working with clay alone, but my family was especially mesmerized by the pieces incorporating other elements, particularly fiber. One artist showcased work using horse hair. Yep, straight from a horse’s mane or tail. The hair is seared onto the clay in the kiln, producing fascinating fine lines and shadows.

Personal styles
I recently finished reading Lisa Congdon‘s latest book, Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. It offers tips on making a mark as a creative person. More than that, it celebrates the unique and distinctive styles that all of us offer to life’s landscape. In my roaming Fired Up Studios’ gallery, it became apparent to me they do the same.

Creative mash-up
It was also through Congdon that I grew an interest in and tried my hand at some simple pen-and-ink patterns. As a result, my eye really tuned into pieces bearing geometric and whimsical designs reminiscent of her techniques. Such collisions make me giddy, when a medium or technique or source of inspiration I already appreciate appears in a whole new context. This is what makes my artistic adventures so fulfilling, exciting, motivating—all of the words that compel me to read, see, learn, and try more in the world of art!

On Seeing SAINT JOHN’S POTTERY STUDIO

My fascination with the Saint John’s Pottery Studio began with “Clay, Wood, Fire, Spirit,” a documentary produced in 1996, but featured recently on TPT Twin Cities PBS. The film serves as a “video portrait” of Richard Bresnahan, a master potter and the studio’s artist-in-residence. Watch video>>

IMG_3545

The sales room offers an overwhelming array of pottery in various forms.

During a recent visit to the campus of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., I was able to swing by the studio to see it in the flesh. I was greeted by two young apprentrices hard at work at their wheels—barefoot, gooey with clay, and engrossed in the forming of their signature vessels. I took in the gallery walls filled with numerous pieces of pottery in various forms: platters, bowls, vases, candlesticks, and cups. And I marveled at the hundreds of works for sale in a side room. Oh, to imagine the people-hours invested in the throwing and glazing and firing of all that I saw!

IMG_3547

Guests of the studio are invited to enjoy some tea at the “irori,” a traditional Japanese hearth.

Perhaps the biggest impression the studio made on me was its air of hospitality. The apprentices were quick to offer a formal tour, which I look forward to taking them up on another day. I was offered a seat at the studio’s “irori,” a traditional Japanese hearth, for a cup of green tea and conversation. Smiles and warm attention and a sense of home—these qualities definitely enhanced my appreciation of the art around me and, of course, the people who make it.

The experience got me to thinking… How can I infuse some hospitality into my own art making and sharing? What part does environment play in the spirit of my work? These are good—and fun—questions to ponder.  I’m eager to keep my eyes and ears open for more inspiration.

On Display: “Psalm 104” & Infinity Scarves

img_0889Though I just began my visual arts endeavors in February, I hesitantly pursued an opportunity to share my work as part of a public art exhibit. Both “Psalm 104” and some of my hand-crocheted infinity scarves are now on display with my faith community’s annual Holy Week Art Show: “Blessed to Be a Blessing” (Calvary Lutheran Church, Golden Valley, Minn.).

My artist statement reads:

It’s during the cold winter months that I seem especially taken by knitting and crocheting projects. It was just this past winter that I amassed quite the pile of infinity scarves crocheted in a variety of hues for gift-giving and sale. Our guest bedroom is now home not only to baskets full of scarf upon scarf, but also to envelopes packed with colorful yarn scraps left over from those crocheted creations; I couldn’t bear to throw those fascinating fragments of my projects away and knew a use for them would surface someday.

Crocheting is often a meditation in and of itself for me but, through those leftover scraps, God revealed a new avenue by which to meet Him and know Him better. One day, I was compelled to cut each scrap into thumbnail-size shreds and to glue them quite randomly to an old painted canvas. Upon filling the canvas, I studied the background. A design emerged and, to me, it resembled a landscape. Upon this observation, the work then revolved around Psalm 104 and turned into a personal expression of praise for the Lord’s creation.

Given the theme of this art exhibit, the work also became a metaphor for what it’s like to use our gifts for the sake of others and God’s Kingdom. When we give of ourselves and serve in the power of the Spirit, God never leaves us totally spent and wrecked and wrung out of anything that may benefit our own lives of faith. Instead, our acts of service often bear even greater opportunity to grow closer to Him on a personal level; they produce material that later helps us to delve deeper into His Word and to heighten our adoration of His power and providence. In this way, we are blessed to be a blessing.

Perhaps with more experience in both art-making and art-showing, my hesitation will dwindle and my confidence with grow. Perhaps my own acts of boldness will spur others to share their stories and contribute their own expressions of hope and beauty to the world (by the way, this is exactly what you’ll see if you’re able to take in the “Blessed to Be a Blessing” show). Time will tell, but for now, I’m taking much joy in the journey.

Not So Pumped

I love my book club. I love the other women who make up our group, and I love the variety of books we read. Sometimes we read some big winners. Sometimes we read some big duds. Sometimes we read something in between, like our current book.

Later this month, my book club will gather to critique Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger. Krueger is a local author known for his tales of suspense and the recurring character of Cork O’Connor. In Northwest Angle, Krueger takes O’Connor to an adventure on Lake of the Woods, a large body of water bordering Minnesota and Canada. As its name implies, the area is very “woodsy”–a great place to escape from all civilization and to experience unblemished nature.

My Coleman camp stove has two fuel options: “pumpable” liquid and “nonpumpable” propane.

So it makes sense that the likes of a Coleman® camp stove would make its way into the story. After a devastating storm, one of the main characters happens upon a cabin stocked with food and equipment, including a Coleman. Early on (page 35), she uses the stove to heat some water… and, unfortunately, that’s where I get hung up on the whole credibility of the book.

The scene reads, “She lifted the Ball jar, unscrewed the lid, and pulled a kitchen match from the supply inside. She pumped propane into the Coleman stove, something she’d done a zillion times with her father on camping trips…”

I put the book down. I couldn’t read any further. Pump propane? That’s not how my Coleman stove works!

My husband and I have gone round and round over this in recent hours. Is “pump” really the right word in regard to using propane? Is propane ever pumped? Or perhaps the author got his fuels confused. Did he actually mean liquid versus gas? I’m stuck! What really happened with that blasted stove?

What really happened? I realize that Northwest Angle is purely fiction, but before I encountered this stove issue, the story was real to me. I enjoyed the characters. I was intrigued by the plot. I think it just goes to show that even the smallest questionable detail can remind readers that they’re being taken for a ride, and the magic is lost.

Are you the kind of writer who acknowledges the importance of fact checking, or do you dismiss it as a painstaking step unnecessary to your “art”? Whatever your approach, remember that your readers will notice.


WRITING PROMPT 1: Have you ever encountered a questionable detail or error in a book you’ve read? What was it, and why did you stumble?

WRITING PROMPT 2: Pick a piece of equipment (a stove, car, bicycle, drill, clock, etc.). Research the details behind how it works, then write about it.