"Carriers" Exhibit Gallery Talk

I talked about the ceramic sculptures from my Jerome Foundation St. John’s Pottery Emerging Artist residency. This was a casual, fun format. My brother, Dan Jaspersen, happened to be performing a magic and mentalism show the same day on the same campus. We capitalized on the opportunity and presented the gallery talk together.

(Note: The opening portion of this video is muted to avoid copyright issues. Sound comes on at 8 minutes.)

"Carriers" Ceramic Sculpture Exhibit

The “Carriers” exhibit consists of ceramic sculptures by Jason Jaspersen made in residency at The Saint John’s Pottery Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Program.

You are cordially invited to the artist exhibition displayed at Bethany Lutheran College in the Ylvisaker Fine Arts Center, February 14 – March 24, 2019.

Gallery talk and reception: Thursday, February 21 at 7 p.m.  

Ylvisaker Fine Arts Center Gallery Hours: 

Sunday – Thursday 1 – 9 p.m.

Friday, Saturday, 1 – 8 p.m.

Bethany Lutheran College Art Department, 700 Luther Drive, Mankato, MN, 56001

Phone: 507.344.7000


I remember seeing a documentary on PBS in the 1990s about some Minnesota guy who learned how to make pottery in Japan. He dug his own clay, built North America’s largest wood-fired kiln, milled the lumber to build his house, and taught his hands-on lifestyle to apprentices. I couldn’t remember his name, but I couldn’t forget his lifestyle.

Years later I re-learned the name, Richard Bresnahan. My wife and I visited Richard’s studio as a side trip at a faculty retreat. 

I was a little star struck, but even more stunned that he stopped working at his wheel and poured tea for my wife and me.  

Here, in the flesh was this amazing guy sitting in the world that he built, and he stopped that world to sit and talk. He signed an exhibition poster.  

I don’t know why it took so long, but after that poster hung in my high school ceramic studio for more than a decade, I started bringing my students to the St. John’s Pottery. Richard was kind and generous with my students and hosted energetic discussions around a calm pot of tea and a heaping plate of cookies. Some students began calling it the best field trip ever.

My students and I always enjoyed our few hours with Richard, but I was eager for more.

In Spring of 2017, I scrambled together images of my sculptural work and wrote a quick and frank statement about why an “Emerging Artist” residency at the St. John’s Pottery would be good for me.

My application letter follows:

To Whom it may concern,

I’ve never applied for a grant, residency, or anything of this sort. I’ve operated my studio practice for 20 years believing that I should be supported solely by a market that wants what I produce. I’ve done fairly well at keeping commissions flowing, but there is always a trade-off. By focusing on commissioned work, I’ve had to distance myself from myself. Long ago, I made work that turned my insides out and made my invisibles visible. Today, I schedule my output and make revisions according to the whims of committees. I believe this residency would refresh me a bit with a new environment.

According to documentaries on TV, the books I’ve read about him, and the times I’ve visited with him, Richard Bresnahan lives life with conviction. I appreciate his work ethic, responsibility, and kindness. I admire him as an artist and a human.

As a descendant of Japanese and Scandinavian artists, I have a natural fascination with those cultures. Richard’s experiences in Japan and the methods he uses in Minnesota are relevant to me both artistically and personally.

I am studying for a Master’s Degree in Experiential Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato. If awarded this residency, I would make plans with my advisor to do some reflective work on Richard’s educational methods, how I am affected, and how I might use my experience in the future.

Thank you for considering me for this residency.

Jason Jaspersen


I turned in my application with few minutes to spare. Two artists are chosen annually from Minnesota and/or New York City.

I was stunned and elated to be accepted.

The residency awarded me and another artist 30 days and nights with food and shelter provided, a financial stipend, and full access to the St. John’s Pottery.  

I reflected in a daily blog, scribbled concepts and thoughts in a sketchbook, but the sculptures were the focus of my efforts. The clay received my playful whims, willful impulses, repeated explorations, and surprising recombinations.  

Not everything survived the day or the month.

I applied some techniques I already knew, adapted to gravity’s harsh critiques, and developed new ways of working.

Richard practically dared us to use as much clay as we wanted. According to his estimates, the workers at the pottery have processed 300-years worth of local clay. All I had to do was make stuff. It was suddenly apparent that I should figure out what to make.

This exhibit is the result of those thirty hot June days and a ten cooler October days when crews fired the Johanna Kiln around the clock. 

Simul Iustus et Peccator

This latin phrase translates to “Saint and sinner at the same time.”  Here’s a distinctly Lutheran theme. Sin and grace continually exist in the heart of a believer. Our relationship with God is one of gratitude and devotion even as our very nature plots sin and bitterly resists his gifts. In this sculpture a hooded figure tentatively looks skyward clutching a cross. Behind his back, his other hand clutches a similar shape with dark intentions.  

Junker Jorge

I attended the Martin Luther exhibit of artwork and artifacts at the Minneapolis Institute of Art prior to this residency. In that exhibit I learned of Martin Luther’s childhood fascination with St. George who famously slayed a dragon to save a damsel in distress. This was why he took on the name “Junker Jorge” in hiding…Knight George. I had a similar fascination with a heroic caped crusader in my youth, but I have yet to find an excuse to call myself Batman.


Most of my 30 days were spent searching for stable building methods. I struggled to make work that looked the way I envisioned. Then that work would collapse. Gradually, I experimented to support the clay, or control the drying times. In the last 2 days, I developed a method that allowed me to create quickly. Because of this method, I produced 25% of my pieces in the final 6% of my time. The Carriers Series uses the “piggyback ride” as an open-ended metaphor. It invites the viewer to consider relationships of support. Who carries whom and what is the effect? In some situations I shoulder the burden for the benefit of others, in other cases I enjoy a majestic view blissfully unaware of all that makes it possible. Some of the carriers have riders, some of them are ready and aching to carry, but have no rider. 

These sculptures have an uncontrollable patina. This was my first experience with wood firing, and I’ll say it requires a degree of letting go. The colors and patterns on these pieces are almost entirely due to the effects of the kiln. Some colors come from mineral-laden ashes dusted exposed surfaces. Other colors come from the higher heat of surfaces directly exposed to a rushing river of flame. Other colors come from the sheltering nature of a cup or bowl stacked on top of the sculpture. While I did apply some colored slips with loose intentions, the results are also due to the delicate handiwork of “fire whisperers”. Richard, his studio manager, and his apprentices spent six weeks stacking 10,000 artworks while predicting and suggesting the path of flames. They were joined by an army of volunteers for ten days of bravely and carefully stoking the fire while gauging time and temperature by listening to its sounds and watching the color. A chimney reaches 20 feet in the air. I’m told flames reached another 20 feet up beyond the chimney.

Richard likes to say that every ceramic piece is influenced by three equal forces: the clay, the artist, the kiln. 

It would be difficult to find a time in my life in which I was allowed the same span of intense creative activity. As an artist, time to think about concepts, tinker with materials, and chase mastery is a wonderful gift. The time given me by the Jerome Foundation and the St. John’s Pottery continues to teach me about how to create full-time, how to manage my energy, and how to approach the unknown with humble persistence.

Learn more about my June 2017 residency./

After spending nearly 4 years in Japan as an apprentice for the Nakazato Family, Richard Bresnahan returned to St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota with a wealth of pottery knowledge and skills. Learn more about Richard Bresnahan and the St. John’s Pottery with this 25-minute video on YouTube.

The Process has been nominated for an Emmy!

We've just been informed that an episode of "The Process" has been nominated for a 2018 Upper Midwest Emmy Award!  It looks like stiff competition in the category, but exciting to be in the running!  Thank so much to Steven Sherman and Mike McMahon for their faithful labor, insightful guidance, and technical expertise.  Small towns can hold big treasures, and I'm honored to work with the crew at New Ulm Cable Access Television (aka-NUCAT)!

Watch the nominated episode and all other episodes of "The Process".  Hit Subscribe on the NUCAT YouTube channel to receive top-notch local content as it happens.

The Process is an arts educational program featuring New Ulm artist Jason Jaspersen. Each episode showcases different methods, techniques, and styles of art as Jason walks the viewer through the steps he took to complete a piece of work. On this episode Jason walks the viewer through the sculpting, casting, and unveiling of the bronze portrait of Julius Berndt.


I've made some big changes in the past few months!  This past Spring I ended 17 years of teaching art classes at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School.  Teaching at MVL has been one of the great surprises of my life and an enduring blessing.  God has blessed me with new skills during my time at MVL.  I've learned to manage tasks, plan for effective communication of concepts, demonstrate techniques, and direct collaborative projects.  I've learned to lead worship, listen to students, and work with a ministry team. 

God also gave me a series of nudges out of the nest this past year.  As a result, I've started working as a full-time artist at Koine Worship Media and I will also begin teaching sculpture at Bethany Lutheran College in the Fall.  Here are the ingredients of my new daily reality:

  • Commute across the backyard to work.
  • Consult with some of the leading creative professionals in Confessional Lutheranism (Koine band members) every morning at 8:15.
  • Get my head in the Bible and Hymnal to research projects.
  • Sit at the drafting table, easel, or iMac composing original visual content to stimulate the faith of Christian worshipers worldwide.
  • Learn new skills and software to open even more possible creative outcomes.
  • Eat lunch with my wife and kids.
  • Give Tudy the studio cat attention.
  • Work late into the night and on weekends just as I have always done.

The following video eloquently explains the new Koine Worship Media ministry...

Meanwhile, at Bethany Lutheran College, my dear alma mater...

I'll soon be sharing the theories and practicalities of creating sculpture (with an eye toward Christian aesthetic traditions and themes) with college students.  Sculpture was my major 20 years ago and this will be my first opportunity to teach the topic.  My head spins in the midst of so many blessings! 

The following article eloquently addresses this transition period and my thoughts on being a Christian creative...

A Mighty Fortress (The Process: Season 1, Episode 3)

In this video we explore my family's connection with Japanese sumi-e ink painting, making visual storytelling decisions, and dealing with creative roadblocks.  See the making of the children's book based on Martin Luther's influential hymn "A Mighty Fortress."

"Passion Song" sand animation

Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.

Bresnahan Residency-Post Firing

It was a real pleasure to go back to the St. John's Pottery to pick up my sculptures.  It's been 6 months since my residency and I felt right at home.  Richard, Ryan, and Brandon took good care of me at tea time and throughout my visit.  Hospitality has been a major lesson of my time at the pottery.  I even got back to the Refrectory (cafeteria) with Brandon!  After I was packed up, Richard was very willing to answer some "making of the studio" questions.  As we were finishing up, I asked him to put the St. John's Pottery in 5 words.  He quickly replied, "a place of sacred beauty."

Richard likes to say that every ceramic piece is influenced by 3 equal forces: the clay, the artist, the kiln.  Even though I was expecting to be surprised by the kiln's contribution to my sculptures, I was still surprised.  The raw power of a raging river of fire is evident in the kiln's effects.  So is the delicate hand of "fire whisperers" who stacked the work predicting the path of flames, and stoked the fire listening to the sound and watching the color.  I'm told the heat got so intense in this 14th firing that the steel on the back door was melted and warped by the rushing river of fire.  At times the flames blast 20 feet into the sky from the top of the chimney.  For all you Avatar fans, these people are earth benders first, then they are fire benders.  Now that I think of it, I may have seen some water bending too...

Bronze Casting Explained (The Process: Season 1, Episode 2)

Ever wondered how bronze casting works?  Learn how I made a bronze bust of a historical figure from pre-clay all the way to unveiling the bronze.  Episode 2 of the Process is here to answer your art questions.

Thanks Casting Creations!

As usual, the expert craftsmen and women at Casting Creations did amazing work for this project.  Spend a little time at their website to learn more about this jewel of a business.

Thanks NUCAT!

Subscribe to the NUCAT Youtube channel to get notifications when new episodes of "The Process" are released.