By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN It’s 8 a.m. Smoldering coffee cans are clustered outside of Holy Trinity High School in Winsted.
Each can is packed with leaves and grass, and covered with sawdust. In the center of the cans, small clay shapes are gradually transforming into works of art.
By lunchtime, the pottery is ready to cool.
Later in the day, students take out the bowls and gently clean and polish them. Each piece is evaluated for its shape, pattern, workmanship, and burnishing.
“Primitive firing techniques can produce jet black pottery, or pots with various mottled colors,” art teacher Gerry Kulzer noted.
Kulzer is new at Holy Trinity this fall, but he has taught primitive firing to students in Litchfield for many years. As part of the lesson, students learn about legendary Native American artist Maria Martinez, and construct pottery using a variation of her coil technique.
“I try to do a progression from simple to more complex,” Kulzer said, explaining that after students learn the coil technique, they progress to the potter’s wheel.
By the end of the school year, Kulzer’s goal is for each student to use the wheel to make a set of matching dishes. Students will also sculpt a face out of clay an extensive three-week project.
Sculpting is Kulzer’s personal forte; when he’s not teaching, he can be found creating custom sculptures for clients.
“Most of my work is commission,” he said.
Kulzer works closely with Brodin’s Studio in Litchfield, which specializes in honoring law enforcement, fire/rescue, and military personnel with bronze sculptures.
The bronzing process is quite lengthy.
First, Kulzer creates a piece out of clay. Then, a wax mold is made, and brought to Casting Creations of Minnesota, a fine art foundry in Howard Lake. There, it is dipped multiple times in a sandy liquid ceramic to form a shell. The piece is baked, and the wax melts out.
After that, hot molten bronze is poured inside to replace the wax. Once the bronze is cooled, the ceramic shell is chipped away. Tall statues are created in pieces, then welded together.
The final step involves patina and polish.
Kulzer enjoys sculpting and teaching equally, and is glad to be able to do both.
“The teaching gives me interaction with awesome students and keeps me fresh; and the sculpting gives me personal fulfillment,” he said.
In addition to teaching high school students at Holy Trinity three days a week, Kulzer also teaches elementary art in Atwater two days a week.
“Students surprise me sometimes with their creativity,” he said.
Kulzer remembers getting excited about art when he was the age of his students.
“In elementary school, a teacher liked one of the paintings I did,” he recalled. “It was a painting of plums, and she asked if she could keep it.”
That encouragement prompted Kulzer to keep painting.
“I think that’s what started the idea of education, too,” he said. “Teachers can make a big impact.”
Kulzer’s high school didn’t have an art program, but he continued to create every chance he got. Instead of words, his notebooks were often filled with drawings relating to the subject the class was studying.
“The drawings were my notes,” he said. “It worked for me.”
After graduation, Kulzer initially planned to become a graphic designer. Due to a two-year waiting list for the program he wanted, however, he decided to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth for art teaching.
“It was a great fit for me, and a good place to be,” he said.
While in college, he did studio assistant work for a pottery professor.
“I had access to all the clay I wanted,” he said. “That pushed me out of two-dimensional graphic design, and into three-dimensional artwork.”
To see Kulzer’s work, go to www.kulzerdesign.com. The Holy Trinity art website is www.kulzerdesign.com/ht.