During a weekend trip into the Twin Cities, after attending a lovely Pots in the Grass sale at the studio of Warren Mackenzie, Simon and I stopped at the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus to have a look at the current exhibition, A Culture of Pots: The 25th Anniversary of the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. The St. Croix tour is one of the largest in the United States, featuring some 50 ceramic artists across 7 host locations along the beautiful St. Croix River valley. Simon has work in the show, and many of my favorite makers did as well, so as you may have guessed, we were pretty giddy to go.
The Weisman, recognizably designed by Frank Gehry, curated a spectacular show highlighting both the host artists, and the diverse group of guest artists from across the globe who have had the honor of participating in the tour. The show was spread across two rooms. The first spotlighted the hosts, with individual pedestals reserved for each artist. The other, sported a similar spread of pedestals with guest artists thoughtfully mingling with one another. The large, circular images flanking each space became windows to the rural potter's landscape, transporting the museum goer to the tour itself.
The pedestal surfaces were colored with bright primary reds, blues, and yellows. The color brightened up the space, adding some vibrancy to the room in contrast to the mostly muted tones of the pots. Simon suggested that the colors helped create a rhythm to the space to subtly guide you around the room. It was a bold decision, and on the whole I'd say a successful one. The one critique that I must express was how much the color reflected itself up onto the work above it. It was a distraction from the true surfaces of many of the pots.
It is worth noting how appreciative the Midwest seems to be when it comes to pottery. Through this exhibition, the Weisman is codifying the St. Croix tour and all of its participating artists as fine art makers. They sincerely recognize the pursuit of the contemporary studio potter–to create beautiful and useful objects that enrich the experience of their users.
Ceramics is a way of life in Minnesota, and the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour exemplifies the passion of both the artists and the collectors who consider it an annual pilgrimage.
Walking through the exhibition, steeped in the work; the hearts and souls of all of these extremely talented makers, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude. As a young potter who is just beginning his journey down the firebrick road, I am grateful to even be peripherally associated with this community. This show represents years of work by each of the makers that compose it. Lifetimes of trial and error, good ideas and flops, epiphanies and dead ends, perseverance, passion, and play. I'm humbled by the dedication and beauty found spread across these colorful pedestals.
As a maker, all I want is to make something that engages me, which will later bring you some joy as you view, handle, or use it. Things that will sneak their way into your daily routine, whose presence is ever present, but never intrusive. Vessels that will hold things that you hold dear, and be gathered around by you and those close to you. I think I can confidently say that just about every artist in the show feels somewhat the same. Thank you, St. Croix potters for your hard work and dedication, and thank you Weisman Museum for recognizing them.
So with a full heart and inspired soul, I leave you with these words by Pamela Espeland which sums up the sentiment with perfection:
"...Pots like these have become part of our everyday lives. From them, we've learned to see a bit differently, set a table more deliberately, eat or drink more mindfully. We've felt the artist's fingers on the rim of a plate or the curve of a handle and noticed how a glaze can look like a painting. Maybe we hang out at the dinner table longer. It's amazing what a lump of clay can do, in the right hands."