Making something from nothing

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Pottery always fascinated Kate Daly, who often wondered, “How do they make something from nothing?”

Her questions prompted the St. Anthony Park resident to take the plunge to unlock the mystery. In 1999, she enrolled in a class at the Northern Clay Center and was soon hooked.

“This was one of those beginning ceramic classes,” said Daly. There she learned pottery basics: building up the clay, using the potter’s wheel, and combining hand-built and wheel-thrown elements. She also learned about glazes and different types of clay.

“I was so intrigued that I just kept taking classes,” she said. “It was the one thing that I could do where I forgot everything else, and there was a true mind-body connection in it for me. For the longest time, I wasn’t very good at it, and I do have the first thing I ever made as a reminder of that time. But I just kept taking classes.”

For Daly, the perseverance paid off.

“In a couple of years,” she recalled, “I had developed to the point where I needed my own studio. My first studio was at Fired Up in the Fisk building at Stinson and Hennepin.”

Having her own studio increased her productivity and skills. “You have to make more and more pieces to get better,” she said.

After outgrowing Fired Up, Daly moved to an expansive fourth-floor studio in the Northrup King Building at 1500 Jackson St. in Minneapolis. Most of Northrup King’s tenants are artists, and the building is a major stop on the annual Art-A-Whirl.

Daly’s studio has everything a potter needs: space, shelves for drying and an electric kiln—her costliest investment.

“Many potters don’t have their own kiln and have their work fired by someone else,” she said. “But I found that when you have a kiln, everything changes because when you fire your own work, you have complete control over the process.”

Although by the time of her move Daly was well along in her career as a potter, she kept taking classes. “I think the real turning point for me happened when I took a ceramics materials analysis course at the U. It changed my whole confidence level. I know how glazes act; I understand the formulas, what materials are made of. It’s kind of like cooking, but more involved in that you have to do a lot of sampling, a lot of testing. You have to see how the colors interact.”

A potter has to be concerned with more than aesthetics, Daly said. “Things can blow up, but the biggest hazard is inhaling dry clay materials. You should wear a mask. You can also get contact dermatitis, as well as back problems from bending over to throw the clay.”

One thing Daly likes about her present studio location is “First Thursdays.” On the first Thursday of each month, artists open their studios to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. Daly enjoys the stream of visitors and fellow artists who stop in to view her work or chat with her about pottery.

Daly downplays her life before pottery, wishing only to focus on her art. She did acknowledge, though, that in 1998 she was a Fulbright scholar to Pakistan, where she taught at the National College of Art in Lahore, conducting research in Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar.

Daly lives in St. Anthony Park with her husband, David, an optometrist and former owner of Village Optics, previously located where Gustafson Jewelers is now. Their two grown children no longer live at home.

Reflecting on her work, she said, “All my work is functional. I like something that you can use every day.”

Last January, Daly spent three weeks in China: Shanghai, Beijing and Taiwan. The trip inspired her to try her hand at scaling down her work to the proportion of Chinese dishes. She has a Chinese-style table setting on display in her studio.

Daly has recently begun participating in shows. She’ll be at the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival on June 3. In addition, her work appears in several galleries, including AR Andler in downtown St. Paul and Stone’s Throw in Bayfield. She will also be featured at Art, Etc. in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Seven years later, Daly’s love for pottery grows. “It’s really hard to do but it’s always magical. How you can start with a bunch of nothing, like mud and clay, and end up with something beautiful always amazes me.”