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>>

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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!

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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.

Empty Bowls & Blackout Poems

In my continued quest to claim the identity of “artist,” the past few days have provided a couple more opportunities to discover and grow and imagine…

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“Emergence” (2017) & “Sensory Sampler” (2018) from Empty Bowls

Empty Bowls
It’s my absolutely favorite fundraiser: Empty Bowls. No matter the amount of their donations, all guests receive all-you-can-eat soup and bread provided by local restaurants and other food-savvy organizations (my favorite soup from this year’s menu came from a nearby nursing home), but the best prize for each person there is a handmade bowl to take home! Middle and high school students, churches, professional artisans, and citizens of all talents and backgrounds contribute to the supply. The whole effort benefits local food shelves.

For the past two years, I have attended Empty Bowls with my friend Judy. It was by her inspiration that I turned my attention toward the more unusual and less conventional bowls. Of all the bowls I’ve collected from the event over the years, these pieces mean the most to me and seem to embody so much personality.

I’ve also taken to naming the bowls I bring home: “Emergence” (2017) by R.W. and “Sensory Sampler” (2018) by Olivia. This year’s find is glazed in a beautiful turquoise color, plus I like Olivia’s experimentation with a different texture on each side of the bowl: brick pattern, fish scales, basket weave, and diamond shapes. As for “Emergence,” I admire it and its mysterious maker so much that I was compelled to write a poem last year:

Emergence
By Barbara Farland
I imagine a sitting, zitty, and somber teen
Resigned to the day’s assignment
To sculpt a bowl from clump of clay

Young fingers coil
Thumbs tug and nudge
The damp media into resemblance of prescribed form

Lumpy sides
Lopsided bottom
Endear me to it
So obviously amateur and thoughtless and rushed

Now as mine
I name it

Emergence

Its rough sides reach up in jagged uncertain stretches
Reminiscent of the awkwardness of its maker
Ever oblivious to my appreciation
And prayers for his soul
His sense of contribution
His eventual awakening
And emergence of spirit

Empty Bowls events are held all over the United States. Find one near you to eat good soup, to support a great cause, and to see and take home some phenomenal art!

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Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon & my own blackout poem “Mission”

Blackout Poems
A couple weeks ago, I shared my appreciation for Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. On Wednesday, I picked up his book Newspaper Blackout from the library and read it from front to back in less than an hour. It’s a super quick and super fun read!

Here’s how the gist of the book is described on the back cover: “Armed with a daily newspaper and a permanent marker, he constructs through deconstruction—eliminating the words he doesn’t need to create a new art form: Newspaper Blackout poetry.”

Through this deconstructive method, Kleon came up with a variety of free-verse poems that are sometimes lovely, sometimes humorous, and always clever. But they’re so much more than the words—each piece is also an interesting work of visual art.

I was reminded that I already tried this approach of “poetry-writing meets art-making” through the “28 to Make” class on CreativeLive.com (see photo for my creation of “Mission”). But after reading Kleon’s book, I’m itching to make a little more blackout poetry of my own, but instead of newspaper clippings, I think I’m going to go the altered-book route. Now if I could only find that cool little purple book I bought a few years ago for this very purpose!

Any weekend plans? Mine will include another date with my husband, this time with our taking in the “Crazy About Collages” class at Hopkins Center for the Arts. More on that later!