Does art feel foreign to you? Do you think Salvador Dali sells cold cuts? That Frida Kahlo is a corn chip? Can you tell your Picasso from your pi—
The point is visual art can come off as exclusive. If we’re not in the know, then it’s hard to find the door. I think one compelling role of art tours is to dispel that myth. From the highly educated critic to the curious browser, everyone’s interpretation of a piece begins as an intimate experience. At The Clay Collective Spring Pottery Tour, the experience can become something you share with the people around you and with the artists themselves.
The first weekend of May, Michael Schael, Mark Skudlarek, Ric Lamore, Ed and Laura Klein, Glen Cutcher, Bruce Johnson, Mary Pratt, and Rick Hintze invite you to enjoy the pinnacle of spring weather at their artist studios. “It’s at the same seven locations,” says Michael. “There are four studios in the Cambridge area. There is one in Lake Mills. There’s one in Milford. And there’s one in Johnson Creek.”
Whether you visit one studio or all seven, there’s always a mix of pieces because each artist also features guest potters on their grounds. Michael says, “The guests are always changing, so you’re not always seeing the same artists over and over.” Last year would’ve marked a milestone for the Collective with 28 artists on the tour if COVID-19 hadn’t become an issue. At the time of this writing, 15 guest artists are confirmed for 2021.
Perhaps you feel you can’t attend because you have small children. Not to worry. “While it’s about the arts, six of the artists actually live out in the country, so [on normal years] kids can run around in the yard while their parents are looking at art. We like to keep it open to everyone.” If you ever enjoyed playing with dirt or clay, whether you were 6 or 60, the event has something for you.
Part of the inclusive approach of the event stems from each artist’s drive to make connections and grow as artists. It’s kind of the difference between an art fair and an art tour. Where an art fair is a great way for people to see a lot of art from a lot of artists in one place, an art tour is a way to interact with an artist in the environments that inspire them. It’s a place meant for conversations to take place between patrons and artists. “It’s a lot more relaxed than an art fair,” says Michael. The goal is for everyone to come away with an experience—a memory of time and place solidified during their walk through an artist’s garden.
To capitalize on those moments, food is often offered at each venue, though not for 2021, due to the pandemic. For Michael’s part, “I serve coffee and juice in the morning, and then in the afternoon I have wine and cheese. Other people have cookies and cold cuts [not Dali’s], and sometimes people are serving up brats to have patrons stay around a little bit. Because we also want to show people how to use our work, sometimes we’ll have the hors d’oeuvres or food on the plates we’ve made. Sometimes people need a little encouragement on how to use things.”
Which takes us to why this is really an art tour for everyone. The majority of pieces at the Spring Pottery Tour are “actually meant to be used. Serve your food on it. Drink your coffee or tea out of it first thing in the morning. Have your adult beverage in the evening. … Having a mug sit on a shelf kind of defeats the purpose. [As the artist] You want it to be used. You want it to be held. You want it to enrich someone’s life.” It’s art in plain sight, not on display or highlighted with studio lighting. If the art being created is one chapter, your using the item is necessary to finish the book.
The Collective itself allows for more of these stories to be written. As an individual, the life of an artist involves a lot of marketing that can largely be hit or miss, with a lot more misses than hits. “The Clay Collective is a group of potters who finally got smart. Instead of each of us opening at different times in the spring to have a spring sale, we decided to all just pool our resources and all open the same weekend to create an event that would draw more people in and also give us a consistent date that people could count on and put on their calendars.”
As for the artist side of the Collective, each member sees it as more than an event. “On Saturday night, we have a meal where all the potters get together and share tips, get to know each other. A lot of other situations, like art fairs and other tours, at the end of the day, everyone sort of goes their own way.” Again, art is about connections. You never know how one interaction can lead to your next inspiration or inspire someone else.
Many of the patrons come back each year, some with stories. “Having someone come up to you and say, ‘You know, I use you mug every day. I kind of have to start my day with your mug.’ That really, for working artists, is what drives us.” It’s feeding the need to explore and evolve artistically, ensuring this tour will continue to grow in numbers and ideas for years to come.
Follow The Clay Collective Facebook page and visit theclaycollective.org for event news, information on this year’s artists, pictures of artwork, and a downloadable map.
Kyle Jacobson is a writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.
Mark the 2021 Pottery Tour on your calendar:
May 1 and 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. both days