Photos by Nina Hagen
Sept. 9-11, Northern Clay Center invited artists from around the country to participate in the 18th American Pottery Festival, the center’s annual three-day fundraising event. APF annually funds much of the center’s operating expenses and programming, from community outreach to education and artist workshops. The festival captures the clay community’s collaborative atmosphere through working with local businesses, fostering relationships between artists, and making ceramics more accessible throughout the Twin Cities. It is also a highly selective artist showcase.
“The selection process [for APF] is invitation-only,” says NCC Sales Gallery Manager and Special Events director Tippy Maurant. “We try not to repeat artists more than three times, but there are exceptions,” especially for artists with whom the NCC has a good relationship. While much of the process is by recommendation and word of mouth, social media also plays a role through providing emerging artists with valuable exposure.
Around 25 to 27 veteran and emerging artists are selected to participate each year at APF, which serves as not only a showcase for their work, but as a networking opportunity as well. Each artist stays with a host family during the festival, and the NCC staff works to create connections between the APF potters and local artists and entities that may lead to professional opportunities.
Works by David Peters
Leading up to the festival, several artists give 2-day workshops for a fraction of the price you would normally pay. This serves as a great learning experience for educational groups as well as the artists themselves. “APF becomes about the people,” says Maurant. “We try to create an atmosphere where the artists enjoy talking to each other and making connections.”
But the ceramics are the true focus. The potters create their work under a variety of different techniques, such as woodfiring, sandblasting, and raku firing as well as traditional kiln firing. These different processes result in diverse appearances—some artists leave their work bare to highlight the naturally occurring phenomena brought about by firing. “The work may look simple on the surface, but as you look closer you notice small details,” says Maurant. And small details are integral to the logic behind the show’s look.
“Our approach to organizing the pots uses how we read—top left to bottom right,” says Maurant. “That should be the way your eyes travel through the display. It’s also how the entire space is organized. Ideally, you won’t miss anything as you go through. That’s the goal. So, there is a rhyme or reason to it.”
Works by Haakon Lenzi
Inventive presentations add an extra depth to the show, including a modern color scheme on the walls, using fresh flowers to liven up the displays, and arranging the works so nearby tables feature wholly different techniques and looks. The presentation is as fun to look at as the art itself.
Furthermore, as much thought is put into the displays as is put into the work behind the scenes.
“There’s so much outreach during APF,” says Maurant. And the event’s positive effects are apparent—the artists whose work is on display at the center year-round benefit from the festival, the public has access to works by artists that they may not normally be able to see, and volunteers who lack the funds to pay for additional events within the festival are given full access to them.
Works by Betsy Williams
In addition to support from local businesses—Sociable Cider Werks was a sponsor opening night—NCC annually uses APF as a jumping off point for various kinds of community engagement. Art collectors are flown in for tours of private and corporate collections, school groups come to the center for tours and workshops with artists, and the center’s ClayToGo van (much of the funding for which comes from APF) continues to bring ceramics to parts of the local community that would not normally have such opportunities.
While not much changes year to year, the festival still finds ways to innovate. A new feature this year is the addition of artist biographies and photos next to their work, which give patrons a context through which to observe and relate to the art. “Things change every year, but we have to evolve and tweak things in order to keep it fresh and make [the artists] want to come back,” says Maurant.
Learn more about the American Pottery Festival and other Northern Clay Center events at northernclaycenter.org.