Published July 12th, 2023 by Cynthia Maya
From a quaint arts center to a universally lauded ceramics studio, NCC’s growth attracts ceramicists far and wide to feature in their annual exhibition of McKnight fellows.
Passing through the doors of Northern Clay Center, you’ll discover any shopper’s paradise. Shelves upon shelves of ceramic wares await you from classic mugs, vases, and decorative jewelry to elaborate structural pieces. But it’s behind the heavy green door of NCC that clay comes alive, taking shape in makers’ hands, residing in hallways, and lingering in the air as it heats in the kiln.
The exterior of Northern Clay Center on East Franklin in the Seward Neighborhood. Photo by Blaine Garrett.
Northern Clay Center has come to be known as an internationally recognized studio and exhibition space, but its origins are much more humble. It was started in the 1990s by — as with most art collectives — a small group of makers longing for shared space, resources, and above all, community. The Center filled that vacuum so fast that NCC outgrew its original space in St. Paul within five years, moving into its current building, a converted stamping factory on Franklin Ave, and becoming neighbors with the Seward Neighborhood Group. But the Center's expansion was exponential, and it took over the space in full in 2012. As a maker’s space for all levels of expertise, it was bound to be popular, but a majority of its success can be attributed to the way it pulls its community in through its trinity of programs.
Eliza Au, Lattice Cube, 2022, Stoneware Cone 6, 11" x 11" x 11"
The biggest and most ambitious of those programs is the education sector. With a main goal of getting hands in clay, the Center hosts over 1,000 adults annually across their four terms of classes, and 500 children through different youth programs. For those who can’t make it to NCC itself, their outreach initiative creates clay programming for their partners teaching tactile learning in residential care facilities, bringing clay camps to children's museums, serving public schools who have lost arts funding or equipment, and even reaching to the farthest corners of the state. Despite ceramics being a mostly hands-on experience, the Center's approach for education is well-rounded. At the heart of NCC sits the library, the celebrated chamber of knowledge, both physical and literary. Bisqueware tucked into nooks shows raw technical skills while books, magazines, and other ephemera fill shelves. The library is a place where people and ideas congregate. In the last few years NCC’s digital crowds have grown past even national borders. When lecturers convene in the library's lecture space, NCC records and livestreams to international audiences far and wide.
Students throwing clay at potters wheels during open studio hours.
The studio program, residing in the east wing of the building, serves seasoned veterans and draws in independent makers worldwide through the residency programs including the McKnight Artist Residencies for Ceramic Artists and NCC's own internally funded Early Career Artist Residencies. The programs allow over thirty local and visiting artists 24-hour access to the studio which houses a handful of electric and updraft kilns and a special Dutch Blaauw kiln, as well as 18 glazes, wheels, and handbuilding stations among other equipment. At any given time you can see ceramicists working in their coil of cubicles, full of works-in-progress showing their signature styles: sculptures of animals, body parts, vessels, each construction reflecting our unique human interests back to us. Works don’t reside just within NCC’s four walls either; public art installations, large and small, created at NCC are scattered all over the Twin Cities.
View of the Seven McKnight Artists exhibition, on view through August 20th
For the art they can showcase within their walls, they make use of their gallery program. If you’re looking to buy, NCC represents over 80 artists in their sales gallery and if you’re looking to downsize, well-loved works can be donated through their ReCollect program. NCC hosts up to a dozen exhibitions each year spanning all methodologies and techniques. Each summer, the Center's annual McKnight exhibition showcases new works from mid-career ceramic makers selected to be recipients of fellowship and residency opportunities in addition to composing annual cohorts of exhibiting artists since 1997. This year, the Seven McKnight Artists exhibit features artists from all around the world with works spanning the last three years.
Left: Janina Myronova, OUTDOOR, 2022, Stoneware, underglaze paint, engobe, 21" x 9" x 4.5", Right: Lynne Hobaica, Our Holy Chi-nado, 2022, Porcelain, earthenware, mixed media, 14.5" x 7.25" x 6"
Seven McKnight Artists opened July 8 and will have a reception on July 15th from 1-4pm. A collection of seven unique styles of ceramics will fill the Main and Emily Galusha galleries. See Minneapolis-based Ginny Sims’s series of colorful functional wares, or St. Paul maker Tony Kukich’s pensive and abstract sculptures. Featuring art from across the nation, with inspirations across themes, there are ceramic sculptures inspired by suffering, geometric architectural designs, performance art and more.
The exhibit runs through August 20, but don’t miss the free McKnight Summer Open House July 15th from 1-4PM for a chance to engage with exhibition artists, get your hands dirty with clay, and take part in their second annual Collectors’ sale to celebrate NCC and the Seward Neighborhood that makes it all possible. ◼︎
Editor's Note: Northern Clay Center has numerous classes and summer clay camps currently accepting applications for a various age groups and experience levels. Visit Northern Clay Center's shop website to signup.
Title Image Credit: Claudia Alvarez, I Am Here Now, 2022, Paper clay, brick, 10" x 14" x 26"
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