By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Clay Coyote Pottery and Gallery, located just north of Hutchinson, recently launched an incubator program designed to “grow the next generation of Minnesota potters,” by helping emerging ceramists establish their own small business.
While most ceramic residencies tend to last a few weeks, Clay Coyote’s program is unique in that it lasts three to five years and walks alongside the artists as they start writing grants and developing business plans.
“As far as we can tell, it’s the only small business incubator for ceramics; the only one of its kind,” stated one of the program’s first ceramists Katharine Teesdale, a teacher at Dassel-Cokato High School who researched several ceramic residencies before applying to Clay Coyote.
While she originally thought she was going to be a painter, Teesdale said her exposure to ceramics in college completely changed what she wanted to do in life, and she immediately switched over to a ceramics-focused major.
Even though she wanted to continue her education, Teesdale said ceramic master programs are typically designed for those who want to teach at the college level. As an alternative, she turned to residency programs, made a list of everything she was hoping one would have, and started looking around.
When Clay Coyote owner Morgan Baum called to tell her what its incubator offered, Teesdale said it hit the mark.
“It was like [Baum] was reading my list without ever even seeing it, like I designed the program myself,” Teesdale stated.
Exploring style with new materials
When describing her work, Teesdale said it typically tends to be quite contemporary and organic.
“A lot of people have told me that my work is very Danish,” she stated. “I think I’ll keep some of that, but I think my colors are going to be changing. Especially now that I’m back in the Midwest. I love walking outside and being like, ‘OK, I want those. Can I have that lake, and that sky, and those clouds, [and] put those on my pots.”
Besides the change in colors, Teesdale is anticipating other changes in her work to occur as well, since Clay Coyote has her working with different materials and has some different firings.
Currently in the process of developing her own functional line, Teesdale said she is exploring what her forms will be and how to use her new materials to create them. However, she did mention that she loves to create nesting forms, that stack and visibly go together.
“Everybody gets a buddy,” she stated.
In artistic pursuit
In her pursuit to become a famous ceramist, Teesdale said she has three main objectives.
Her first objective is to always teach, which she currently does as the new part-time art teacher at Dassel-Cokato High School an opening she did not know about when applying to Clay Coyote.
However, after applying and receiving both the residency and the teaching position, Teesdale felt, “it was meant to be.”
Before coming to DC, Teesdale had served as a maternity leave sub at a high school of 3,000 students in Chicago. When living in Philadelphia, she was part of the Claymobile, a mobile teaching program out of Clay Studio, which is one of the largest community-based ceramic art centers in the country.
This opportunity allowed her to work at 72 schools within the state, where the instructors would “drop in and pop back out” of schools to bring art to kids who otherwise would not have it. Through this program alone, she was serving about 2,000 kids a year.
Teesdale said she is looking forward to building relationships with the DC students, too.
“The kids are so nice, and I feel like they’re making really interesting things, which is really cool,” she stated.
During her time teaching, however, Teesdale hopes her students will be able to find their own storytelling voice in their work.
“That would be amazing,” she stated. “Like figuring out how they can use what they’re making to say something. I think that’s really hard, but I also think they’re up for the challenge.”
Teesdale’s’ second goal is the ability to make art for herself and to “feed [her] soul.”
“If people like it and want to buy it, that’s great, and if they don’t, that’s fine,” she stated. “It’s not for them anyway, it’s for me.”
Lastly, she will be creating production work simultaneously for her own small business. Her present focus in the Clay Coyote program is building a production business, getting a base of customers, establishing a reputable name, and learning how to do events such as craft fairs.
“I’m really excited to be here,” she said. “I’m really happy.”
The other ceramist in the Clay Coyote’s program is Levi Yankosky.
Yankosky is the son of two retired US Air Force officers, which allowed him to live in several different places, while regularly adjusting to new environments and social circles. He currently resides in Hutchinson.
He was first exposed to ceramics in 2015, when he signed on for what he thought would be a temporary job as a coaster maker for Kerry Brooks, the owner of Dock 6 Pottery in Minneapolis.
While working there, Yankosky befriended another potter in the studio, Johnne Law McMahan.
“[He] taught me to center a ball of clay at the wheel in November 2015,” he stated. “It was curtains for any other use of my free time after that.”
By April, Brooks offered Yankosky a position on her throwing team, recognizing his honed talents.
McMahan also noticed how Yankosky’s skills were sharpening, and was the one who sent him information about Clay Coyote’s incubator program.
“I was quite flattered and despite thinking that I would likely not even be considered, contacted Morgan Baum and met with her at the Clay Coyote,” said Yankosky.
Shortly afterwards, Baum asked Yankosky if he would like to volunteer at the Minnesota Pottery Festival. He agreed to do it, and said it became one of the highlights of his young adult life.
“It helped me to realize that I wanted to get serious about ceramics beyond working in production pottery,” he said.
While Yankosky will not fully start the program until Saturday, Oct. 1, he already knows he will love it and plans to be at the studio every day.
“Each time I return to the property is better than the last,” he said.
“I have an urge to throw pots unlike any feeling or desire I have ever experienced. I don’t think I throw pots because I want to, it feels like I have to. So, I will be there literally every chance that I have,” he continued.
Being rather new to ceramics, Yankosky said he is still searching for his artistic voice and is continually exploring different technique and styles. However, he did mention that he enjoys the process of throwing larger pots.
In addition to his exploration, Yankosky said his personal goals both long and short-term are changing every day.
At the time of press, Yankosky said he wanted to learn everything he could about firing kilns, both at Clay Coyote and elsewhere.
Yankosky said he is excited to work with customers and their ideas.
“I welcome all new ideas, and I am more than willing to try anything,” he stated.