A few weekends back, June 11th and 12th, I had the chance to participate in a workshop with two of the artists we show here at Artisan, Tom Jaszczak and Maggie Finlayson. Their work is some of my favorite in the world, and their complex handling of surface was one that I had always been fascinated by.
Both Tom and Maggie work not only in the ceramic tradition, but are also pulling heavily from the works of painters from the 30s-50s. While Jaszczak specifically references the works of Mondrian (going to far as to quote him on his website), Finlayson’s influences are not so easily derived. I personally draw connections between her work and that of Rothko, but that response is one of feeling and color, and not a wholly complete one. These are artists that I’ve always had a connection to, and they’ve proved there’s something to be said for creating a connection between the functional piece and the abstract surfacing.
The drive up from Madison was lovely, save for the hour of zero visibility rainstorms, and an uneventful traffic stop for a faulty headlight. We made a detour to Menomonie to drop off a friend, and then made our way to Minneapolis proper. The actual location of the workshop was about 40 minutes South of the city at the home and studio of Donovan Palmquist and Colleen Riley. The two of them could not have been better hosts, and just being able to see their collection would have been worth the trip. Hundreds of pots filled every inch of shelving, including some of my favorites potters, and a few of the artists here at the gallery: Nick DeVries, Ryan Myers, Zac Spates, and Tom Jaszczak. Although I didn’t see any of Maggie’s work which is just silly, and I hope Donovan and Colleen picked up a piece.
Our day started with watching Tom throw and then square/pentagon off some of his classic five-sided pitchers, mugs, and three sided bowls. While doing so he and Maggie ran an informal Q/A of what their lives as full time artists were like, the differences between Penland and Archie Bray, and the classic piece of mind questions that aspiring artists ask of professionals (yes they still get to eat three meals most days, etc). Having seen many, many potters proficient at the wheel, and even beginning to approach something resembling efficiency myself I’m still amazed by what people can do with that tool, and he was no exception. After watching that performance we took a brief coffee break, wherein I was able to talk with the two of them about their recent time working abroad, and their path that led to ceramics.
I’ve always been fascinated by what brings people into this field, and what drives them to make the work that they do. Growing up in Canada, Maggie didn’t have many opportunities in clay until she came to the University of Minneapolis. Tom’s interest in clay was slightly more ingrained in his Minnesota roots. He speaks fondly of the crisp, but clearly hand-hewn aesthetic of Mark Pharis, as well as other potters working in a similar fashion. The history of Minnesota potters is a deep one, and these two have carved out a space for themselves in its canon.