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.
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.