To tour is to journey for pleasure, and before I set off on the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour, the pleasure I was most looking forward to was the chance to leave the city and drive north through the St. Croix River Valley, an area north of Minneapolis, bordering Wisconsin. Attending the annual tour is as mandatory as brushing your teeth for Twin Cities people, yet I was interested in it for unconventional reasons, such as the scenery and the chance to spend time with my driving partner, Valerie. I had been living in pottery-central Minnesota and was getting tired of seeing and hearing about pots most of my waking hours. My mind was becoming numb to pottery due to over-exposure, and something wonderful would have to agitate my apathy for functional ceramics.  

Pot by Mike Helke, 2017 St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. Photograph by Elenor Wilson.Secretly resistant, I started out with Valerie. Our first stop was Linda Christianson’s home and studio. She makes some of the hardiest and most reasonably priced pots I’ve ever come across. I had bought one of her “toast plates” at the Northern Clay Center months before the tour; it is now my jewelry stand. It boasts a surprisingly bright and deep blue satin finish that covers the plate just enough to highlight its chunky edges. Alongside Linda, Mike Helke showed his work, and it seemed the most spontaneously made of any pottery on the tour. His pots have more angles than one would think a vessel could wear, and they seem to hang out on the outskirts of the pottery world or often somewhere else entirely. 

As I meandered through the pots, my thoughts drifted somewhere else, too. I was itching to leave the pottery behind and walk back up the dirt driveway lined by forest and sprinkled with white wildflowers. The flowers’ petals were a predictable shape, pleasing to the eye, but shockingly tiny compared to the large leaves of the plant. The contrast of the oversize leaves with the small petals resembled the presentation of Mike’s pots: a small mug next to a large, dog/dinosaur-shaped vessel. In each case, the seemingly disparate parts are part of or made by the same organism. This correlation was refreshing in that it helped me see how a maker can break down traditional notions of where or when a piece of art should or could be presented simply by curating their own show environment.