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
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.
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.
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.