Making a pot emerge out of clay from a spinning wheel might be difficult enough but the Pottery Olympics takes things up a notch. In the clay art tournament, potters are blindfolded while making their pottery creations. They also vie against each other (without a blindfold) to make the tallest pot and the widest pot as they compete for the grand prize: a $1,500 wheel. That’s a big enticement for the potters that show up for the Pottery Olympics, part of the Minnesota Pottery Festival in Hutchinson.
“The people competing, they mean business,” says Morgan Baum, a board member of the festival, and owner of the gallery, the Clay Coyote.
Pottery lovers are converging this weekend for the festival at the Masonic/West River Park by Otter Lake, for the 12th edition of the festival.
Baum, whose business specializes in clay art used for cooking, will offer a cooking demonstration. Baum’s mother, Betsy Price, and father, Tom Wirt, started the business back in 1994, with Baum and her husband buying the business in 2016 after Wirt retired. Price still works in the shop as studio and gallery manager. She’ll offer tips on how to use beautifully fired tools to create scrumptious meals.
Another artist, Jonathan Walburg, will teach a class on digging clay from the shore of Lake Superior. In his practice, Walburg mixes the Lake Superior clay with beach-sand from the North Shore as well as porcelain, resulting in richly textured dinnerware, with traditional ash-glazes from local maple and oak trees.
Kevin Caufield, of Caufield Clay Works based in Saint Paul, will throw a 100 pound pot over the weekend, while Joe Frank McKee, from North Carolina, demonstrates the ancient Japanese art of Raku firing.
Last year, the festival drew 3,200 attendees, primarily from the Twin Cities and other states around the Midwest. Baum tells me the festival began at a kitchen table at a different pottery festival in Cambridge, Wisconsin. “A bunch of potters were sitting around and said, we should host one of these in Minnesota,” she says.
An ad hoc committee was formed, which made plans for the new festival, featuring 14 potters that year. Just 2 were women. This year, nearly half of the 38 potters, hailing from 11 states, and with applicants from all over the country, are women.
The Minnesota Pottery Festival differs from many of the art fairs around Minnesota in that it focuses solely on pottery and clay art. It also differs from Minnesota’s other big pottery festival, the Saint Croix Pottery Tour, in that it all takes place in one location. It also strongly focuses on education with demos, classes, and a kids section.
This year, more than 60 artists applied for the festival, with a jury selecting the participating artists with an eye toward representing a variety of mediums, Baum says. There are wood-fired pots, gas-fired pots, hand thrown, and hand-built items, as well as contemporary and traditional styles. “We try and make sure that there’s a broad range of functional and decorative work available,” Baum says. The festival’s board of directors also keeps an eye on price point as it juries the show. “We want to make sure that everything’s not a $400 cup,” she says. “We want to make sure that most people who come can get something that fits in their budget and they can take away a piece of art.”
The jury also chooses the recipient of the Emerging Artist award, this year going toward Saint Paul-based Wendy Eggerman. Eggerman’s business, Functional Heirlooms, uses vintage dinnerware and glassware as inspiration for modern pottery.
Another artist to watch out for is the Duluth-based Ashley Hise, who re-imagines growth patterns in bones and shells, and their relation to the flow of water for her delicate, mysterious work. You can pick up one for yourself, and maybe learn a thing or two about the art of clay at this year’s festival. There are several food trucks as beverages from Bobbing Bobber Brewery and Crow River Winery, plus soda, coffee, and root beer floats.
The fun takes place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 29, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 30.