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Northfield resident Glynnis Lessing showed supplies used during a recent workshop in her studio, an old milk house. 102: New Northfield resident Glynnis Lessing showed supplies used during a recent workshop in her milk house studio, where she and other local potters created brushes from fox, deer, and squirrel tails.

Liz Rolfsmeier, Star Tribune

MEMBERS' SHOW

The Northfield Arts Guild members' show features the work of more than 35 local artists. It runs through Jan. 4.

Where: 304 S. Division St.

Information: northfieldartsguild.org or 507-645-8877

Also: Visit the Fine Craft Collective, a pop-up gallery of local handmade art at 506 Division St., where many members of the Arts Guild sell their work before the holidays.

Pottery infused with the force of nature

  • Article by: LIZ ROLFSMEIERSpecial to the Star Tribune
  • December 14, 2012 - 6:33 PM

In Glynnis Lessing's milk-house studio, metal pails of logs and sticks sit by the wood-burning stove -- fuel for long workdays.

Out one window: a view of snow-covered larch trees. Out another: black-and-white chickens peck at the remains of a pumpkin. The windowsills are filled with wild cucumber pods, papery lanterns from tomatillos, pine cones -- all inspiration for the potter's work.

She uses the stall room, where her grandfather used to give her fresh foamy milk straight from the cows, as a place to photograph her ceramics.

After living in Chicago for 20 years, Lessing and her family moved to Northfield in March, where she started transforming the old milk house on family property into a workspace.

"It's been a very, very easy transition," she said, "mostly because of the potters here."

She joined the Northfield Arts Guild, which hosts its annual members' show now through Jan. 4, and quickly became part of the ceramics community.

Potter Barbara Zaveruha has shown Lessing firing techniques during group firings at the personal kiln of Charles Halling, a prominent (now deceased) Northfield potter, and Lessing recently invited a group of women potters to a brush-making workshop at her studio, where they transformed tufts from fox, deer and squirrel tails into tools.

"It's natural for potters to be kind of community minded," Lessing said. "To get clay out of the ground to condition it, to fire it, you need more than one person. It's a very communal activity to make pottery, and that, I think, has stuck with us."

Though Northfield has long been known as an arts community, local potter Colleen Riley, who reached out to Lessing on Facebook before she arrived, said there weren't many potters when she and husband Donovan Palmquist moved there eight years ago from the cities. Now there are about 20 ceramics artists.

Potter Fred Gustafson moved to Northfield six years ago and helped expand the Northfield Arts Guild clay studio, which now hosts a variety of classes, to twice its size. "When I started working in the studio, there were three of us, and no classes," he said. "Now it's a fully developed studio."

Riley and Palmquist relocated after purchasing land in nearby Eureka Township. Palmquist was one of the first artists to occupy the Northrup King building before it was divided into studios. (They would go roller-blading and play Frisbee on the upper floor, he said.) He builds and works on kilns all over the country and created kilns on their property, where the couple do wood and soda firings.

"You don't want to do it in close proximity to your neighbors because they don't like the smoke," said Zaverahu, who moved to Northfield from Roseville eight years ago so she could wood-fire her ceramics. Now, her closest neighbors are half a mile away and rows of dying Siberian elms should provide fuel for years, she said.

The natural world influences many Northfield potters. "Because we lived out on conservation land, it's been seeded with native prairie plants," said Zaverahu, who presses native grass into her work to create impressions.

Lessing uses "sgraffito," scratching through a surface layer to reveal color underneath, to create woodcut-like images of beavers and fish, nasturtiums and nests. While she used nature imagery even while living in the city, she now spends summers at her wheel watching grosbeaks stopping in the black raspberry patch.

"When I was living in the city, I was just craving it so badly," she said.

"My upstairs neighbors are raccoons," she said. "I just have access to so much more nature. It's been filling up my soul."

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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