By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN Situated directly on Highway 12 in Dassel, Levandowski Pottery gets much of its business from passersby.
Known as the Polish Potters, Aron and Jena Levandowski are a husband-and-wife team who have been creating a broad range of “functional ware” together practically since they met nearly nine years ago.
When they first started dating, Jena, a native of Gilbert, learned that Aron, a native of Monticello, had made pottery while he was in college.
To encourage him to start building pottery again, Jena bought Aron some tools and signed him up for working space at a Twin Cities art studio.
Soon, Jena began playing around with clay and started hand-building. The first piece she made was a platter for her mother.
Just six months after they began making pottery together, the couple were selling their pieces.
“We started a business together before we were even married,” Jena said, commenting on how crazy that might sound.
Originally, the work paid for itself. Selling the pieces allowed them to rent even more space to work with at the gallery.
Eventually, Jena quit her job as a customer service representative at a printing company to work full time creating pottery. Aron continues to work full-time as a graphic designer, but also puts in 25-30 hours a week making pottery.
The Levandowskis supply eight stores, including locations in the Twin Cities and northern Minnesota, and participate in 14 art shows throughout the year.
The couple also hosts three open houses at their Dassel home typically the third weekend in April, the weekend before Halloween, and the weekend before Thanksgiving.
“We pull a lot of traffic off the road,” Jena said.
The business is also heavily supported locally, but they will get those customers from out of town who comment what a treasure it is and that they never expected to see this in the small town of Dassel.
To hear and see the customer’s positive reactions is very rewarding, Jena said.
“We’re very fortunate to do what we love to do,” she said.
Their pottery consists of a variety of pieces and designs, from functional bakeware and tableware, to decorative seasonal items and jewelry.
“There’s something for everybody,” Jena said, noting that prices range from $5 to $325.
One of their signature designs is the leaf motif, which they press into a lot of their pots.
They really like to add texture to the pottery, Jena noted.
She also has found that doilies add a unique texture and design to many of the pieces.
While there are many unique pieces, customers are also able to add matching pieces to their collection since the Levandowskis haven’t changed their base glazes. That will stay constant, the couple noted.
The Levandowskis have found that the most popular pieces in 2011 were part of their shino collection. This is a copper-orange glaze which has wood ashes in it; a technique that adds a metallic element.
Of course, they have found what’s popular depends on the customer, and oftentimes, where their shows are, which is why they have to be prepared wherever they go.
“That’s why we have so many choices and colors,” Aron said.
When the couple moved to Dassel in January 2005, they started with one wheel, two bisque fire kilns, and a slab roller. They drove their work to the Minneapolis studio where the final firing was completed.
Finding this no longer economical, the couple built their own kiln and glazing studio in 2006. It was completed just in time for their first big open house in Dassel.
Since they are open by appointment, having a permanent gallery would make set-up a lot quicker and easier for the couple.
Until a year ago, the Levandowski’s gallery was their two-stall garage. They would have to set up and take down a display inside their garage whenever customers called and wanted to shop.
Now, they have a permanent 20-foot-by-20-foot showroom, which they completed in 2010, just in time for their October open house.
“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” Jena said.
With a kiln and gallery complete, the Polish Potters decided the next step would be to upgrade their work area.
“The house addition was really brought on by our business,” Aron said.
The couple’s work area is in their basement, which in the winter was very cold, and in the spring, very damp. Not only were these not comfortable working conditions, but it also made it difficult for the clay to dry.
The remodeling process included adding heat, a bathroom, and space.
In the midst of the renovations, a vehicle drove off the road, striking and destroying their front porch.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Aron said, because it allowed them to extend the basement further to where they could add a separate room perfect for teaching small groups. Their hopes are to be equipped to teach pottery classes one day.
Unfortunately, pottery equipment is expensive, with a single pottery wheel costing roughly $1,000. Ideally, they would like two more wheels before they start teaching, Jena said, but they may be able to start teaching hand-building sooner.
For more information about Levandowski Pottery, visit their website at www.levandowskipottery.com.
Their next open house will be Friday, Nov. 18, noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 20, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are located at 510 Parker Avenue West (Highway 12), Dassel.