The annual tradition at a local pottery studio will feature 14 artists in multiple mediums
By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Passing the green facade of 1708 University Ave. W., you would never know there’s a thriving pottery studio inside.
There are no signs, nothing to draw your attention. But this building, owned for years by potter Gary Crawford, will house one heck of a studio sale on Fri., Dec. 12 from 4-9pm and Sat., Dec. 13, from 10am-5pm.
This annual sale is something Crawford and fellow resident potter Mike Norman have been hosting together since 1993. Customers can easily find parking along Aldine and Herschel streets. Substantial refreshments, including what Norman called, “A feast of hors d’oeuvres,” will be served in the “Hospitality Room,” and the working studios will be turned into galleries.
Crawford and Norman have invited several of their artist friends to join them, including Jan Davies (specializing in old beads from around the world), painters Beth Joslyn, Hjordis Olson and Elizabeth Clay, weaver Julie Arthur, printmaker John Clay, paper artists Bridget O’Malley and Amanda Deginer, and fellow potters Willem Gebbon, Monica Redquist, Colleen Riley, Donovan Palmquist and Kelsey Rudulph.
This type of studio sale has been a long-standing tradition in our state. Warren MacKenzie, an internationally celebrated potter who has made Minnesota his home for more than half a century, greatly influenced both Crawford and Norman. MacKenzie had a tradition of an annual sale at his studio near Stillwater, featuring his work and that of his friends. Many of his former pottery students, like Crawford and Norman, continue to conduct business in this collaborative way.
Crawford started making pots in 1972 when he was a young attorney. He owned a farm near Cannon Falls and created his first pottery studio in the barn there. Crawford’s most frequent studio visitors in those early days? He says it was the cows who were most curious about his work as a potter and, for all purposes, were very supportive. He practiced law full-time for 12 years and part-time for more than 40 years, while he pursued his love of clay.
Peter Leach, already an established potter, had a neighboring farm in the Cannon River Valley. Using his knowledgeable of non-profit structure and ceramics, Crawford joined forces with Leach and MacKenzie and started the Northern Clay Center (NCC). The NCC, located at 2424 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis, has been a nationally recognized center for clay arts since 1990.
Norman took his first pottery classes from MacKenzie at the U of M. Norman was in his last year as a forestry student and, following graduation, joined the navy for a two year tour. He’s been making pots ever since.
Norman uses the same treadle wheel he started on, kicking the treadle with his left foot while his hands steady the spinning clay. The style of Norman’s pots is very recognizable. He says, “I probably spend as much time drawing on the pots as I do throwing them.”
Each of Norman’s cups, plates and bowls tells a story. The characters in his stories are often dogs, cats and rabbits on an adventure. Images of boats also appear frequently in his work, representing, Norman says with a smile, “the passage through life.” Norman also does sculptural work, notably his signature candle sticks (see photo above of unglazed rabbits), which are an extension of his surface drawings.
Ceramics is both a science and an art. While Crawford uses a high-fire gas kiln, Norman uses a low-fire electric kiln. The glazes used at different temperatures have varying colors, textures and sheens. With so many talented potters showing their work at the studio sale, it’s a great opportunity to ask questions about firing techniques, glazes, clays and more.
Neither Crawford or Norman were ever interested in being production potters (making the same forms over and over again without variation). “My pots come off the wheel and right away I start to think about how I can modify them by carving or scraping or pulling them into a different shape,” Crawford explained. “I don’t feel my pots are finished until I hear them sing.”
Come on down Dec. 12 and 13 to enjoy the work of Crawford, Norman and their many artist friends. Visit early for the best selection of pots, paintings, weavings, art papers, beads, prints and hors d’oeuvres!