Steve Hemingway said he took his first pottery class in 1979. “I dove right in. I loved the process. I loved the plasticity of clay.” Although he doesn’t make many “functional” pots nowadays, he said, “I still get joy from reaching into my cupboard and bringing out something I created.” The secret to good pottery, he added, is that it has to be light and well balanced. “Getting the weight right at the bottom of the pot is the hardest thing to learn. It comes last.”
His signature pieces are large hand thrown pots, ornate vessels and urns, generally two to four feet high (some weigh up to 75 pounds), which he throws in two pieces, sealing the seams with a torch. He carves figures on the outside when the clay is leather hard. Often the subjects are cranes, heron, or swans. Some works reflect an Asian, Egyptian or Italian influence. He also does tiles, wall pieces, bottles and jars
Hemingway is from Flint, Michigan, where he studied painting and printmaking at Mott Community College and the Flint Institute of Arts. He started teaching in 1988 and had a studio in Flint for five years before he made the move to Minneapolis. “My girlfriend at the time was an artist, and Flint was a little depressed [economically] at the time. She was looking for a place to move and had investigated Denver and Chicago. One day she called me and said, â€˜I’m in Minneapolis, and this is the place to be.’”
He and his girlfriend parted, but Hemingway and his wife Amy, a gemologist, have built a business in the Twin Cities. They live in Minnetonka, where he has a studio in the back yard and five kilns, including a large outdoor fiber kiln (he has photographs of himself standing next to a red hot, glowing four-foot tall pot). “There’s a lot of smoke. I tell my neighbors, â€˜If you smell smoke, call me before you call the fire department.’”
In the 1990s, he taught ceramics at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts for 10 years, and taught raku pottery for five years in a “kind of community ed class” at the Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota.
“Between the Minnetonka Center for the Arts and the U, I had 110 students. I was also putting in 30 hours a week in the studio. I was younger then,” he joked.
He had a studio in the Northrup King building, then moved to a storefront on 13th for three years (2004-2007) where he sold his pottery and other local artists’ works. “It was a nice neighborhood on 13th. There are lots of artists there. I miss the people.”
Recently, they moved the showroom back to the first floor of Northrup King, 1500 Jackson St. NE. His showroom is open on the first Thursdays of the month for the building’s art crawl, 5-9 p.m.; on Saturdays; also by appointment.
Hemingway said he has learned to deal with pot-making disasters, as when a piece breaks in the kiln, for instance. “There are disasters all the time. You learn not to get that connected to large pieces. I’ll be disappointed, but I’m not disappointed for a day or a week anymore. Nothing lasts forever. You just make more.” He said he has put some of his damaged pieces on the fenceposts in his yard. “The grapevines grow up around the broken pots, and there are vines all over a cracked large planter. I like the way it looks.”
Hemingway’s works include a ceramic piece on the head of the board room table in St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, which looks like the bow of a ship. Most of his work is commissioned; recently he has been creating wall pieces and showing his work at trade shows. “I’m doing a piece for a client in St. Paul that has cranes flying over the city. People who commission pieces like the idea that we’re working together. Some pieces are portraits of their lives.”
A typical day in his life? “Today I worked on a frame for a wall piece. While the glue was drying, I glazed eight small pottery pieces and I did a raku firing. I picked back up on the wall piece. I’ll be doing some sketches of a wall piece for a client. I find I’m using a lot of e-mail and Photo Shop now; I have one client who sent me a digital image of his fireplace, and I sent him back a digital image of [what it would look like to have] my piece hanging over his fireplace.”
Art for Hemingway “is not a career choice,” he said. “It’s more of a calling. If I had another kind of job, I’d always be daydreaming about creating art.”
Hemingway can be reached at 952-546-7958. His website is www.hemingwayceramics.com.