Potter Mickey Maslowski threw bowls at her studio outside Ettrick.

The business of art: Mickey Maslowski


(3/28/2018)

Maslowski pressed a pattern into the rim of one bowl.
Maslowski pressed a pattern into the rim of one bowl.


A finished silverware caddy.
A finished silverware caddy.


by CHRIS ROGERS

Mickey Maslowski’s studio is full of ancient technology. Embers glow inside a wood stove. Sunlight pours in the windows, and earthen trays wait for the kiln. An electric motor hums inside her potter’s wheel, giving away what era it is.

“Potters can make functional work to be used in the kitchen, in the oven, at the table,” Maslowski said. “That’s one of the appeals for me. I want the work I make to have a use, a function.” She also wants to price her work so that people are not afraid to take if off the shelf. “Affordable, functional, practical — those are important values for me,” Maslowski said. “Which means I’m not charging a whole lot for my work, which enters into the business. The margin is pretty narrow.”

Nearly 30 years ago, Maslowski was an unlikely potter. “I was reluctant to get messy with clay at first, because it is really messy,” she said. Maslowski was a modestly artistic person — she could draw, for instance — but she did not study art. “It wasn’t something I was afraid to do, and I did occasionally get encouragement — ‘Oh, that looks good’ — but I never thought of myself as an artist,” she explained. “You’ll never make a living as an artist,” was something Maslowski heard often. “That it’s just not possible … That it’ll always be a hobby or a sideline,” she added.

In the backroom at Maslowski’s studio, finished mugs and plates are sorted into totes, ready to be hauled off to a local shop or the next art fair. A new project sits on a table: bas-relief carvings of endangered species. She isn’t making a living from art. Most of her income comes from other jobs, and her pottery business is somewhere between a self-funding hobby and modest source of income. “That might be changing,” Maslowski said. “I’ve started to think I should take myself more seriously.”

For the first time, Maslowski will be exhibiting work in the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour next month. The event draws people from across the Midwest to Driftless region studios and galleries. For Maslowski, it is a chance to test whether selling pottery could become a bigger part of her livelihood. “It is, for me, make or break in a way,” she stated. “Do I grow or not?”

That is exciting, but Maslowski has also been happy to keep her pottery venture small. Like everything she does, it is thrifty. “I’m almost proud of it,” Maslowski said. “I live very simply.” She explained, “I don’t want to extend myself so far out that I’m impacting my community and my environment in a way I can’t justify. So [living simply] makes it easy for me to be a part of my environment and my community in a way that feels comfortable for me.”

The wood stove is her studio’s main heat source, and Maslowski carries pails of water from her house to the outbuilding. “To run water from my well over here would be a huge expense, and I don’t know, I never wanted to borrow money for that,” she said. “It makes me feel freer to not be in debt and not be so extended,” she added. For other people, having electric heat and running water would make them feel freer, Maslowski stated. “For me,” she said, “It is about being low maintenance and low expense. It’s allowed me to focus my mental and creative energy on things I’d like to make.”

In addition to Maslowski’s own pottery venture, she works for Lynette Power, helping Power make pots and slab pieces that she sells at renaissance festivals. Power is one of the Winona potters, along with Teresa Schumaker, from whom Maslowski learned the craft. The festival circuit charges vendors a significant upfront cost just to have a booth — more than Maslowski cares to pay — so to turn a profit, Power has to move some serious volume. “It’s got to be fast production,” Power said. “Don’t just make one teapot. You’ve got to make a series of 10 of them because then you work out a production process. You make 10 handles, 10 lids, and 10 spouts … That’s what makes your time efficient enough to be able to make money at it,” she stated. In Power’s studio, that is where Maslowski comes in: helping Power crank out scores of pieces at the wheel. “She is very speedy. She’s really efficient with her time and energy,” Power said. “Mickey is such an energetic person, and she’s so dedicated. I absolutely love having her come and work with me.”

“Both of us are in a place where our artwork doesn’t pay for our addiction; it subsidizes our bills,” Power said.

Maybe that is OK. Of all the fairs she sells at, the Alma Music and Arts Festival is one of Maslowski’s favorites. She gets to spend the day listening to music and visiting with friends. “While I might not make a lot of money at it, it’s a great day,” Maslowski explained.

“That’s a question I would wonder about for a long time,” Maslowski said when asked why she is attracted to pottery. “I seem to enjoy doing this, but I don’t know why.” She thought for a second, then said, “It’s a way to express creative impulse. I think every individual wants to create something and make something, or we find that we can, and it’s so fun to create something where there was nothing before.”

The Bluff Country Studio Art Tour will be held on April 27-29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Maslowski and Power will be showing off their work at 252 East Sanborn Street in Winona. Schumaker will host tours at 676 West Fifth Street in Winona. A number of other local artists will be exhibiting. Visit BluffCountryStudioArtTour.org for more information.

 

Chris@winonapost.com

 

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