Local potters are about to get fired up about a new venture located between Amery and Star Prairie. Mark and Barbara Lusardi approached the Polk County Environmental Committee Jan. 22 to obtain a permit for Potters Without Kilns (PWK).
A conditional use permit was approved unanimously and will allow the PWK studio to host workshops, firings, classes and sales of multiple artists. “It’s such a relief to have gotten the conditional use permit approved as it opens the door on how I finish the studio,” said Mark.
Mark said he is an artist who has always been compassionate for the arts and how influential they can be to a community. “I am originally from northern Maine where I studied art at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. My love for glaze chemistry in college led to my full-time job as a chemist for Continental Clay in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am fortunate because my employer allows me to take time off to teach Raku pottery workshops and artist-in-residency programs in the Midwest,” he said.
PWK is dedicated to helping ceramic artists find access to kilns and studios in their area and offer assistance to graduates and artists in transition.
“Through my teaching I find equipment that is being disposed of by institutions and I refurbish it and donate it back to those who need it. I hate to see kilns or bricks in a landfill so I salvage them and give them to those who need and can use them. I left two raku kilns at Renville County West High School upon completing a residency so the teachers could continue to fire and teach their students about this special firing technique. I have also built and left kilns for schools so the teachers could continue to have a ceramics program. By helping others I am helping myself be more in tune with my community and the gratitude of knowing I can make a difference is what keeps me going,” Mark said.
In 2013, Mark was given the opportunity to purchase a kiln owned by world famous Minnesota potter Carl Erickson. It was an offer from Erickson’s wife, Rebecca after her husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Shortly after, Mark received a call from Warren MacKenzie, a potter in Stillwater for over 60 years, who donated his salt kiln to the project.
PWK feels the space will allow for larger educational groups and individuals to fire their work and learn more on how to finish their work. “It took 25 years to see this dream become a reality, it will be a lifetime for today’s recent graduates and emerging artists to be able to afford large reduction kilns or the land on which to fire them. By helping artists of this generation we, help the next generation by providing talented artists and educators the tools they need to keep the ceramic arts alive.”
Next, the Lusardis will be working with the electrician and getting interior walls framed, wired and insulated. Mark said, “To date all the funding for the program/project has come out of pocket and not from other resources. When the studio is finished and the kilns come online we hope to have three 50cu ft gas kilns (two soda fired and a reduction) on hand. We will also have one smaller kiln for smaller loads and experimental firings. We will be having a couple of fundraisers in the near future to offset some of the electrical and interior sheeting of the studio.”
He explained the whole purpose of the project is to rent out kiln space while reserving 1/3 of the kiln firings for recent graduates and struggling artists. In exchange for helping to load and unload the kilns two artists will be able to share 1/3 of the kiln space for their work. This pay it forward approach will help make it viable to retain artists and talent within the field while easing the financial burden. “We hope to have various schedules to rent out the kiln in thirds and once a month we plan to offer kiln space by the shelf based on height,” said Mark.
As stated in the proposal for the conditional use permit, they plan to offer a couple of classes on weeknights and workshops on weekends and during the week in the summer months. Mark said, “In the past we have brought in artist/authors Steven Branfman , Paul Wandless, Mata Ortiz artists Diego Valles, Manuel Rodriguez, Kina Paquime, and Duluth raku artists Richard Gruchalla and Karen Rosetti. We plan to bring in other published and skilled artists in for firing and ceramic workshops. The classes and workshops will be open to all skill levels and when we bring artists in we like to find a local venue to host an artist talk on the eve of a workshop.”
Previously located in New Richmond, the new location for PWK is 260 150th St, Amery. The facility will include a variety of kilns and studio space to work in during the firing. This location for workshops and educational outreach offers close access to the St. Paul/Minneapolis area and Western Wisconsin.