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pottery demo

Nestled in the cozy woods of Minnesota lies a small yet efficient pottery studio on the grounds of Saint John’s University. The Saint John’s Pottery Studio, run by master potter Richard Bresnahan, is nationally respected. The studio is like the art world’s version of the Slow Food movement, where conscious attention is given to where and how materials are used, in a sustainable manner.

Bresnahan, his apprentices, and the studio are part of a local system that embodies Benedictine values. In 1979, he returned to his alma mater from an apprenticeship in Japan and was invited to build a pottery program using techniques he learned. All of the studio’s materials are locally sourced, many from the Saint John’s Abbey grounds. Early on, he nabbed 18,000 tons of clay from a nearby construction site, which he still uses today. He also has access to kaolin clay from decomposed granite in a nearby quarry. The clay is processed on site by apprentices using salvaged factory machines and gray water.

In the fall, after a year’s worth of preparation, they hold a kiln-lighting ceremony with the monastery and community to fire the Johanna kiln, the largest wood-fired kiln of its kind in North America (it holds 12,000 pieces), for ten days straight, followed by ten to 14 days to cool and unload. It requires a team of 40 to 60 people to successfully fire, with temperatures reaching 2,500°F. Deadfall wood collected within Saint John’s Arboretum serves as fuel, which adds a unique element of beauty, the ash forming a subtle glaze.

“What are the moral and ecological issues facing our world today, and how are artists uniquely equipped to tackle these issues?” asks Bresnahan. Saint John’s Pottery is a holistic response to this inquiry.


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