A dream many people had when the Ely Folk School began in 2015 started to come true when Phil Leino asked if we would like to have a kiln that he had purchased years before for his sister. Having checked out many used kilns in the past, Program Coordinator Betty Firth didn’t let her hopes get too high, for this one had been in storage for a long time. But, lo and behold, it was clean, dry storage, and the large oval Olympic kiln looked to be in very good shape, so we brought it to the Folk School. Then began the process of writing grants and seeking donations to equip the ceramics studio with pottery wheels, tables, shelves, tools, clay, glazes, and other supplies. Thanks to the Arrowhead Regional Arts Center (ARAC), the MN State Arts Board, the MN Legacy Amendment, and the IRRR (Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Dept.) grants, we were able to fund those needs and even purchase a slab roller, which will make handbuilding projects much easier.

Volunteers Wade Pharr, Nancy Hernesmaa, Carol Orban, Stephanie Hibdon, and Ely Folk School board members have all pitched in to help get the studio set up and functioning, and Vermilion Community College art instructors, Abbey Blake and Chris Koivisto, contributed knowledge and willing hands. Chris installed the computerized controller purchased with grant funding to upgrade the donated kiln, which will make firings much easier.

The long-awaited day has arrived to launch the first class. We planned for that to happen last November, but Covid restrictions got in the way. People who are curious to see what it’s all about before taking a longer class can sign up for A Taste of Wheel Throwing on May 3rd, a two-hour class with demonstrations and a chance to get their hands on some clay and try the wheel.

Those interested in jumping in to learn more can sign up for a series of three classes beginning
on Thursday, May 6th, which will introduce the basics of working with clay, wheel throwing,
trimming, glazing, and firing. Additional studio time will be available for students to work on
their projects between classes. This class is also suitable for people who have some experience with clay but would like to learn
more and hone their skills. Depending on their skill level and ease of learning, students can work
on making mugs, bowls, tumblers, vases, and other forms of interest.

Future classes will be available to continue to develop wheel throwing skills and learn how to make handbuilt pieces using slabs, coils, and other techniques. Wade Pharr will be teaching an introductory class for handbuilding in June.

There are a myriad of choices when it comes to surface decoration with glazes, underglazes and slips, and techniques will be explored including brushwork, sgraffito, slip trailing, hakeme, paddling, faceting, embossing, and more. Classes specifically for kids will also be available.

The question for you readers is, “What are you interested in learning?”

Are you curious about methods of firing used for centuries in many cultures such as pit firing? Do you want to try the drama and beauty of raku pottery, which is fired outdoors in an intense, rapid firing of thirty minutes or so? Would you like to learn how to make sculptures, jewelry, casseroles and teapots, or tiles for your walls? We will build future classes around your interests, so let us know! in the comments below!

Ask any potter, and they’ll tell you that there is no limit to the directions you can take once you start working with clay, literally creating beauty from the mud. Just be prepared – you could get hooked! Come have fun ! And watch for a Ceramics Studio Open House.

Class size is limited, and Covid-19 safety precautions will be observed. Bring a mask or one will be provided.

Hope to see you soon getting your hands dirty!
Betty Firth, Program Coordinator