Area potters featured in SD Magazine Most gardeners and farmers would welcome a little less clay in their lives, but in the hands of an artist, that common, fine-grained earth can be transformed into objects of great utility and beauty. Sioux Falls writer Ann Grauvogl talked with five area potters while preparing "Changing Clay," for the March/April issue of South Dakota Magazine.
The group includes Michael Hill of Volin, Jeannie French of Brookings, and three Sioux Falls potters: Gerry Punt, Mary Selvig and Julie Punt. Though each has mastered the medium of clay, they arrived at that point in their artistic careers by different paths. After years as a painter, gardener, framer and mom, Selvig went back to Augustana College in the middle age to study art. She needed a clay or sculpture class to finish her degree. "I wanted a pot for my garden, so that's how the decision was made," she said.
Gerry Punt started out painting, then was drawn to the physicality of casting metal sculpture. "But metal was always too hot or too cold," he said. "It was always hard and unforgiving and unpleasant," unlike malleable clay.
Julie Punt was also a non-traditional student when she went back to Augustana to earn her art degree. She also started as a painter, but soon took to clay. Unlike the other potters, Punt doesn't use a wheel for her work. She builds her forms, using coils of clay to construct boxes or rounded vessels.
Michael Hill, who lives near Volin and teaches at the University of South Dakota, has always built things. In college, he started with prints. Working with clay became more important because it was faster, and there was the heat of firing, a process which still intrigues him. He's building a new 17-foot-long wood-fired kiln behind his studio.
Jeannie French was always interested in art, and was lucky enough to have art teachers who encouraged her, both in high school and at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Now she returns the favor as a professor at South Dakota State University. French loves working with clay, kneading it like bread dough, moving it around, and getting to do all sorts of different things.
South Dakota Magazine is a statewide magazine, published bimonthly in Yankton. It is available on newsstands throughout the state and by subscription at (800) 456-5117.