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Maren Kloppmann: Working Potter


Oval bowl, 23 in. (58 cm) in length, porcelain with glaze and terra sigillata, fired in oxidation, 2008.

Wall plates, 24 in. (61 cm) in length, porcelain with glaze and terra sigillata, fired in oxidation, 2009.

My last teaching job ended in 2002 and I consider myself to have been a
full-time studio ceramic artist since then. A big percentage of my
customers are people who have been engaged with and follow the art and
craft of ceramics. They take time to seek out clay centers and
galleries. I have been working with non-profit craft centers and
galleries, fine art galleries and art consultants, and a custom design
store. The percentage of my sales made through my own studio gallery
has grown substantially over the past three years. Some of these are
casual customers, not necessarily as well versed in the language of
ceramics, but attracted to the work on a purely aesthetic basis.

I was in school, there seemed to be an accepted hierarchy of galleries
that you planned on approaching when you felt your work deserved their
recognition. That system appears to have largely broken down. There are
so many galleries carrying so many more artists that it is problematic
for them to build the career of individual artists. My approach has
been to work with a smaller number of galleries to which I can give
more attention.

My studio is in a building that is part of a
designated Metropolitan Arts Area. The city of Minneapolis, and
multiple organizations/media partners support the development of
regular open studio tours, which have also significantly contributed to
my presence in our local arts community.

The necessity to be
present on the Internet also has been a factor in redefining the
relationships between galleries and artists. I have found it most
beneficial if a gallery gives the artist an adequate web page and the
artist in turn creates a link from his or her own website. This aspect
of mutual promotion has been significant for me. I am a strong believer
in the artist-gallery relationship. We give each other validation and a
reason to exist in the market place. In addition, I have created a
gallery space in my studio and concentrate on my own website to expand
a customer base through my own marketing and promotion. I also am part
of the LinkedIn online network and have a page on the regional artists’
directory www.mnartists.org. My web-design team has created a Facebook
Fanpage, though we are not sure yet if that will generate any more
traffic to my site. Regular e-mail newsletters about exhibitions and
events inform my customers about my artistic development and which
galleries represent my work.

This article appeared in the June/July/August 2009 issue
of Ceramics Monthly.
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Of course, when doing your own marketing and promotion, you can control the look and feel much more. Fitting the presentation of my website to the aesthetics of my ceramics was very fulfilling. However, that does take extra time from an already busy schedule. Having to sell work direct to customers from my studio gallery can be physically and mentally draining during long open-studio events, but it does create a unique connection between the artist and the customers. A handmade object tells the story of the maker and of making the object. Ultimately, it really works for me to have two major studio events per year. Besides the sales, it is a wonderful time to visit with many friends and acquaintances I could not otherwise keep up with.
One of the aspects of “artisthood” of which I am most appreciative is that the boundaries of play and art merge. If I were to separate solid playtime, it is spending time with my husband Mark. He is poised with wonderful humor and an endless positive attitude about life. On weekends we take walks or bike rides around local rivers and lakes, go to art shows or have dinner with friends; and we have long conversations about why I love Richard Serra’s work and he does not. Ceramics is always somehow present, because we are both mentally engaged with it. Mark is my business partner, supporting me by being a steadfast critic and advisor, and he becomes my social glue when my Teutonic [German] heritage gets the better of me.

My introduction to clay began with a three-year traditional apprenticeship in Germany right out of high school. The idea of achieving the status of full-time studio potter seemed a noble goal, but was not quite on my radar upon graduation. Moving to Minnesota and visiting many of the outstanding studio potters and role models here affirmed my goal to create a studio career for myself. The biggest challenge, of course, is to set up a viable studio facility and to establish outlets to sell the work, not to mention the necessity to develop a signature body of work after many years in school.

Perhaps I never expected to live in an area that has such a wealth and depth of ceramic tradition and a plethora of working potters. It always seemed as if it would be a rare and largely unrecognized existence. In Minnesota, it’s given respect and is woven into the fabric of the arts community in a unique way.

The switch from soda firing to the electric kiln was initially a very difficult, and even scary, decision. I started soda firing in graduate school in the early ’90s and continued it through 2002. There was a time when I could never have imagined separating my work from soda firing. A visit home to Germany and also to Holland re-ignited my affinity for a Northern European aesthetic and I was looking to express a more austere and minimalist feeling in my work. The control electric kilns offer allows me to express this style more precisely. Electric firing also gives me flexibility in terms of location. I have always enjoyed living and working in an urban environment, with architecture as important artistic stimulus. Computerized electric kilns make it possible for me to have an urban studio.

I have health insurance through my husband’s employment, but I was without it for several years. It can be a daunting situation to be self- employed without health insurance and I think it should not be a privilege but a right to have universal coverage. Yoga is the perfect activity that restores my physical balance. I find it extremely important to have a routine like that to counteract the physical demands of studio work.

If I had my way, I would promote the idea of developing an accredited ceramic program that would merge a traditional apprenticeship (the European model) with a three-year college education. I think academic programs, while wonderful in many aspects, could contribute a lot more to prepare young artists for a career path other than teaching. A second fantasy would be to create a national potter’s union that would help set guidelines for issues like pricing, gallery contracts, collectors’ discounts and offer health insurance to its members.

The Time It Takes
making/firing: 60%
promoting/selling: 20%
office/bookkeeping: 20%

Where to See More
Harvey Meadows Gallery
Circa Gallery
Cervini Haas Gallery