Northfield always seems to draw artists back into its fold.
Carleton grads and ceramics artists Kip O'Krongly and Juliane Shibata worked odd jobs and spent years doing apprenticeships and teaching at craft schools and centers before returning to the town in recent years to put down stakes. Heather Lawrenz, a jewelry maker, was a St. Olaf studio art major who bounced around and returned to Northfield when she decided to buy a house.
"It felt like coming back home again," said Lawrenz. "There's so many people who leave for a little bit and come back."
The community's strong commitment to the arts was a huge draw. This year they will show their work on the 10th annual Studio ArTour, which takes place next weekend in and around Northfield and Faribault. It features 45 artists, nearly double the number on the tour a decade ago.
They agree it's exciting to see how many people are working in the arts in their area.
"This is our community," said Shibata.
The three artists are constantly interacting with other local artists. They hold a weekly "maker's meeting" at a local coffee shop, with a writer and illustrator, when they discuss "how people in other mediums solve problems," said Shibata.
"It's very refreshing to meet with someone outside your medium," said O'Krongly.
The studio tour offers visitors a chance to glimpse that community, and its artistic process, up close.
"I like people visiting my studio," said O'Krongly. "You try to make it very casual."
Her dog greets guests as they come in, and they serve food and drinks; she's thinking of making a batch of mulled wine this year. She gives people tours of the upstairs studio space where she designs patterns, and applies glazes, as well as the kiln and other firing supplies in the garage.
O'Krongly, a ceramics artist, incorporates modern, layered imagery on her pieces — wind turbines, power lines, bicycles, tractors, even flatulent cows — in an effort to explore ideas about food, energy, and transportation, "how they are all interconnected," she said.
"I like the idea that you can kind of start a conversation around the dinner table," she said.
She'll show her work at her studio with artists Joel Froehle and Juliane Shibata. Froehle is a potter and Shibata does botanically inspired pieces as well as work that references folklore and her Japanese ancestry, such as an installation of ceramic wagashi, a sugary Japanese confection.
Shibata said she likes the tour because, unlike a gallery show, "it's really low-key and relaxed."
"People want to support their local artists," said Lawrenz. "They want to have that connection."
Earrings from tea tins
Lawrenz makes jewelry, and her most recent line is upcycled — teacup, disc, and lantern earrings made from coffee and tea tins she gets from friends, local coffee shops, and thrift stores.
"People are just really curious," said Glynnis Lessing, the main communicator for the art tour.
After living in Chicago for 20 years, Lessing and her family moved to Northfield two years ago, where she started transforming the old milk house on family property into a workspace. She creates porcelain ware using a technique known as sgraffito to create images from nature on her work.
"They are curious to see how artists live," said Lessing. "Everyone's got drawings pinned up, or bones, or leaves or things from nature. I love seeing what people have up for inspiration."
At her studio, she has fish spines, wild cucumber and tomatillo seed pods, pictures of birds and skulls, and pottery books. The chickens in the yard and the cats in the studio also provide inspiration.
Lessing took part in the art tour for the first time last year. "I loved not having to set up a tent," she said. "I loved not having to go anywhere. I loved that people could see the environment in which I create my work."
Lessing will be joined by her mother, photographer Mary Ellen Frame, and her husband, Juan Fried, who makes silver jewelry.
Both Lessing and Shibata fire their work at Eureka Pots, the studio of Colleen Riley and Donovan Palmquist, in Eureka Township, another stop on the tour. Both Riley and Palmquist soda fire much of their work, which highlights texture and gives an aged quality to the work.
Palmquist, a master kiln builder who travels all over the world, will often talk about his kilns with people who visit.
"The percentage of people who buy stuff is really incredible," said Donovan. "If people make it down the driveway, they're going to buy something."
"They want the story," he said.
Riley said that she often brings out "little misfits," things that don't go with her current ceramics series.
"People love going through that," she said, "and finding little treasures."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance journalist.